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Study: Mental Illness Patients Do Better Without Cigarettes

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- It has long been thought that smoking is a form of self-medication for those with mental illness, and when they quit their psychiatric symptoms may worsen. As a result, many treatment programs and centers do not focus on smoking cessation for these patients. Now, a study out of Stanford University and University of California-San Francisco is suggesting that smoking cessation may, in fact, decrease hospitalizations for psychiatric symptoms.

The study looked at 224 patients in a psychiatric unit at a local hospital. The treatment group was counseled on quitting tobacco and given resources to quit like nicotine patches, while the control group was not.

They found that 18 months later, 20 percent of patients in the treatment group had quit, compared to 7.7 percent in the control group. Also, in terms of hospital readmissions for mental illness, those who were treated for smoking were readmitted less often -- 44 percent, compared to 56 percent in the control group.

Smoking among those with mental illness is two to four times higher than the general U.S. population, so the study may have far-reaching implications.

Still, while smoking is very prevalent among those with mental illness, doctors have been hesitant to intervene because of the notion that smoking helps symptoms, when in fact it may not.

This study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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