It might be overshadowed by everything else in the news just now, but this week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. Why do we need one of those? It’s because as a society we don’t talk about it enough, we often cannot be open when we are suffering from mental health issues, and essentially we still marginalise those that are struggling. Why does someone from Totally Wicked care about this? Well it’s all about smoking…
Mental Health and Smoking
Around 15% of the UK adult population currently smokes, a huge decline since the mid-1990s, yet over 40% of adults with serious mental health issues smoke, and tend to smoke heavily in many cases. The proportion of people with mental health issues who are smoking has not declined in the same way as the rest of the population. There is a massive inequality in terms of quality of life, standard of living and life expectancy between people with mental health conditions and the rest of the UK’s populace. It is without doubt that smoking prevalence is a major contribution to life expectancy for those of us suffering from mental health issues being 10 – 20 years less than those that don’t. And I use the word us to emphasize that I feel no immunity, nor do I see myself as “other” to people that suffer mental health issues. We genuinely all ought to be in this together.
Vaping and Mental Health
You may have read the Vaped article about our work with Mersey Care NHS Trust, which is one of the North West’s specialist mental health trusts. Vaping is recognised as the UK’s most popular and most effective quit aid, and we are determined to make our products available to those that need them however and wherever we can. It is clear that for many suffering mental health issues quitting smoking is incredibly difficult, and it does seem for some that making the switch to vaping is also harder, but with the best products and the best help, nothing is impossible.
Vaping and “Vulnerable Groups”
When the UK first started to really feel the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Totally Wicked was approached by a number of authorities looking for the best alternative to cigarettes for homeless people that had been sleeping rough, and some other vulnerable groups, that were being rehoused in places where smoking was not allowed. We were really happy to help, and for some the best solution was the Skope S, but for the majority so far the Totally Wicked byte has proved absolutely ideal. Many people in these vulnerable groups suffer mental health issues, and I was relieved to hear that along with a roof over their heads has come a healthier diet, and almost as importantly, access to mental health support. I had not expected more than relief from nicotine cravings to be reported, but was overjoyed to hear that a good proportion of the smokers among the groups are no longer smoking at all. Others are “dual users” still, but plenty of us know that tends to be temporary, and with only one direction to single use that makes sense. Sooner or later, the fags stop tasting as good.
A Personal View on Mental Health Stigma
If there is one failing in our society that I personally find the most difficult, it is probably our failure to recognise mental health issues without marginalising those that suffer them. So I’ll be open, I have had a share of mental health problems, relatively minor issues compared to many, but they have seemed anything but minor at the time. I feel incredibly fortunate that I have over the years become able to cope without medication, and without feeling that I am particularly suffering from any mental health issues anymore. A 2019 factsheet from ASH on smoking and mental health reported that quitting smoking might actually be helpful in alleviating many mental health symptoms. From a personal perspective, they may well have a point.