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Helping a Loved One with a Mental Illness Quit Smoking
By the Quitter's Circle Staff
October 10, 2018

Helping a Loved One with a Mental Illness Quit Smoking

The following post was developed through a paid partnership with Quitter’s Circle, NAMI, and MHA.

When it comes to quitting smoking, getting support from a friend, family member, or loved one can increase one’s chances of staying smokefree. According to a 2015 survey, 80 percent of smokers trying to quit said that support from family, friends, or coworkers was very important to their success. If you know a smoker who wants to quit, your support could make all the difference.

You may even be supporting one of the many smokers with a mental illness who wants to quit. That makes it all the more important to show your support and help them navigate their quitting journey. Read on to find out how.

Be a Good Listener

We all want to feel and be heard. So, get together over dinner, a cup of tea, or a stroll in a park and start an open conversation by asking them about the process and how they’re feeling. Are they feeling anxious or nervous? What are their biggest concerns or worries with quitting, especially as it relates to their mental health or symptoms? Do they have a plan to see a healthcare provider to talk about quitting smoking and their mental health?

And then, of course, listen. It’s okay if you don’t have a ready answer for every issue they might have, but acknowledge what they’re saying and how they’re feeling, and let them know you’re there to support them. Offer to drive them to an appointment if they’re feeling particularly nervous.

Ask How to Help Distract Them

Smokers often have regular times when they smoke. For example, in the morning—after waking up, with breakfast or coffee, in the car on the way to work, or they might take a smoke break at a certain time every day. Ask them: “When and where do you find yourself smoking most often?” A quitter with a mental illness may smoke to alleviate certain symptoms. Help them recognize and implement other management strategies. 

With any change, it takes time to get adjusted. To support your loved one, come up with a plan that helps them avoid those times when they have the urge to smoke. Think of alternative activities and even reward them when they hit a smokefree goal. And the benefits are reciprocal: You’ll get to spend quality time with your friend or loved one as a result.

Be There for the Ups and the Downs

They say that practice makes perfect, and this includes the practice of quitting smoking. If your loved one has a slip-up, it does not mean failure. They may be pretty upset about it, so your job is to remain positive. The most important thing is for them to just keep going, and keep trying to quit smoking. Talk to them about what was hard, what worked, and what changes they’d like to make to their Quit Plan. Ask how you can be a better supporter for the next try.

Keep in mind that smokers who are trying to quit might feel irritable or restless, have trouble sleeping or concentrating, or feel anxious, depressed or hungry during the first few days of their quit. A smoker with mental illness may experience some of these symptoms as a part of their daily experience, and withdrawal may heighten them. Remind them that these are usually symptoms of nicotine withdrawal that will usually go away in a couple of days.

Help Them Stay on Track with Their Plan

If your quitter has a diagnosed mental illness, they may already see a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker for help managing their mental health. Talk to your quitter about how seeing a doctor for quitting smoking is similar to the process of seeing someone for help with their mental illness. Support from a healthcare provider that includes counseling and medication can double their chances of quitting smoking—so it’s a good idea to add a doctor to your care team. Remind them to bring up questions specific to quitting while maintaining their mental illness treatment.

Your support could mean more than you know. Your help, alongside the aid of medical and healthcare professionals, could help your quitter get their start on the quitting journey.


See additional quit smoking resources from our partner American Lung Association.