Hunter researchers are investigating the best ways to help people with mental illness quit smoking - a problem costing Australia $33 billion each year.*
People with a mental illness make up nearly 40 per cent of Australian smokers, and they smoke at least 16 per cent more heavily than other smokers. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder patients are more than three times more likely to smoke than other Australians.*
Researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health have received funding from the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund (ARHRF) to test a new program to help mental health inpatients give up cigarettes.
Associate Professor Jenny Bowman from the School of Psychology in the University's Faculty of Science and Information Technology is leading the research. She said the program differed from conventional approaches because it would link care provided to inpatients trying to quit smoking, with ongoing support through community resources and services.
"It involves a motivational session; community-based options such as a support group, telephone counselling, Quitline referral and nicotine replacement therapy; and smoking-related information being available through groups such as doctors and health services.
"We know that smokers with a mental illness face specific barriers to quitting, including the inability to afford interventions like nicotine patches, and being more likely to be exposed to smoking in their everyday environments.
"Until recently, little assistance specifically targeted to the needs of this population has been available. The challenge is how to provide this group with the best access to integrated smoking care which is feasible, acceptable and effective.
"This research will compare a group exposed to our program with a control group using standard quit smoking care practices. The aim is to develop a model to quit smoking that could be implemented within mental health care across Australia and perhaps internationally."
A pilot study funded by the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) - a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community - led to this research program. It builds on strong collaborative links developed over several years between researchers, mental health clinicians and service providers in the Hunter.
Associate Professor Jenny Bowman researches in collaboration with HMRI's Brain and Mental Health and Public Health Research Programs.
The ARHRF has also funded a review of the Psychological Assistance Service, a program established by the University in 1997 to help people aged 12-25 years at risk of developing a psychotic disorder. The review, to be conducted by the University's Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research, will evaluate the assessments and interventions used by the service in helping patients.
* Statistics from Access Economics (2007) Smoking and Mental Illness: Costs. Report for SANE Australia.