Media releases

Research shows quitting smoking often helps depression

19 Apr 2013

Quitting smoking can significantly improve people’s mental health, according to research, which has uncovered a series of important findings.

The beyondblue-funded research underpins a new booklet, Depression and quitting smoking, which addresses the unique challenges that people with depression face when trying to give up.

Quit Victoria Executive Director Fiona Sharkie said the perception that people with depression can’t or don’t want to quit is wrong.

“With the right support, not only can people with depression quit, but their depression often improves,” she said. “We know that people often smoke to ease stress or boost their mood, but the opposite is actually true. Research has shown quitting smoking eases depressive symptoms and those effects can last for as long as the smoker stays off the cigarettes.”

The research findings include:
- Smokers are more than twice as likely to report that they regularly feel depressed when compared to ex-smokers who gave up six months earlier.
- Many people with depression quit successfully, but overall are a third less likely to do so than people who aren’t depressed.

beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell said the research has been used to create the free booklet that is aimed at people with depression who want to quit. Ms Carnell said that, despite seeming hard, quitting is the best thing smokers can do for their health.

“We’ve always known the physical benefits of giving up, but this study shows the impact that quitting smoking can also have on people’s moods,” she said. “This study shows that while 37% of smokers say they recently had a prolonged period of feeling down, this number is more than halved to 16% among those who quit six months ago. The figure is 34% for those who try to quit but fail within the first six months, suggesting that even quitting temporarily has some mental health benefits.

“This book advises people with depression that they are capable of giving up cigarettes – just like people who aren’t depressed. It gives information about why they smoke, how to make a plan to quit and strategies they can use to quit once and for all. I urge anyone with depression who smokes to order a copy of the booklet and read it.”

The research was conducted by Dr Catherine Segan from The University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health. For a six-month period, it tracked more than 800 people who contacted Quitline for advice on how to quit, including a quarter with depression.

The research found while people with depression found it more challenging to quit than other people, many were still successful, with one-third having quit successfully six months after first contacting Quitline. This compared with about half of other participants in the research who weren’t depressed.

On the down side, the research also found that 18% of participants with depression reported a significant increase in depression symptoms within two months of quitting compared with 5% of people who had never been depressed. However half of those who had an increase in depression symptoms said they believed it was unrelated to the quit attempt. The research was also unable to draw a direct link between any increase in depressive symptoms and quitting.

Ms Carnell said the findings are a reminder that people with depression who try to quit should do so in consultation with their doctor.

“We know from the research that a third of people with depression have quit successfully six months after first contacting Quitline,” she said. “Quitting can be a challenge for someone with depression, but as this research shows, it can be done.”

The booklet can be ordered from the beyondblue support service on 1300 22 4636 or at www.beyondblue.org.au/order or downloaded from www.beyondblue.org.au/resources. The Quitline can be reached on 13 78 48 and has a dedicated service for smokers with mental health conditions.