A recent study out of Rutgers University suggests that some 50% of all deaths among people suffering from mental illness are in some way linked to tobacco use. That same study also demonstrated that psychiatrists are often reluctant to get involved in helping patients quit smoking. Researchers wanted to know why, and whether or not anything can be done about it.
Based on their data, they developed a web-based training program aimed at psychiatry residents. The program was designed to teach residents how they could intervene with tobacco addiction even while treating other mental illnesses. Thus far, some 152 residents at more than 40 medical schools have completed the course. Many of them admitted to knowing very little about what is termed ‘tobacco use disorder’.
Smoking Cessation and Doctor Reluctance
Reading through the Rutgers research reveals some fascinating reasons psychiatrists are reluctant to get involved in smoking cessation. Many of them falsely believe that smoking cessation can interfere with recovery from other types of addictive behavior. Thankfully, a growing body of evidence suggests otherwise. Psychiatric patients can recover from smoking addiction and other mental illnesses simultaneously.
Another common thread among psychiatrists is that they have more important problems to tackle than smoking. Intervening with a smoking cessation strategy is lower on the list of priorities, and many doctors simply don’t get to it.
One more concern among psychiatrists is the reality that many of their patients are not motivated to quit smoking. That lack of motivation makes smoking cessation quite difficult, and it may not be worth pursuing when the psychiatrist has other areas to work on.
Motivating Doctors Through Training
Researchers say that their training course has proved successful thus far. They say that many of the residents demonstrated a proficient level of understanding regarding tobacco use after completing the course. The residents also reported being motivated to get involved in smoking cessation with their patients.
The take-away here is that it is possible to adequately train psychiatrists so they can encourage their patients to quit smoking. And if that is true in the area smoking cessation, it should be true in other areas as well. In short, the psychiatric community can literally change the way that psychiatrists practice simply by developing new training programs that take into account modern treatment paradigms.
Moreover, training opportunities need not be limited to psychiatric residents. Established psychiatrists with decades of experience under their belts can improve the quality of their care through ongoing education. So can new private practice owners, locum tenens psychiatrist, and hospital staff doctors. It’s never too late to learn something new.
Moving beyond Mental Illness
What the Rutgers research has uncovered also suggests that psychiatry can be extended beyond the most common mental illnesses. Remembering that psychiatrists are medical doctors first and foremost, there is no reason psychiatry cannot be more inclusive in what it treats.
Smoking cessation is a prime example. There may be a patient who relies on tobacco and other substances to cope with mental illness. Unfortunately, those substances are harming the patient’s physical health. Treatments designed to address both the mental illness and the physical effects of substance use presents patients with the opportunity for more holistic healing.
It’s still too early to tell whether or not the researchers’ tobacco training program will yield positive results in the long term. It is one thing to train psychiatric residents; it’s a completely different matter to test whether or not that training actually helps reduce smoking rates among psychiatric patients. But the training is a good place to start.