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Depression May Stand in Way of Smoking Cessation Success

A new study has found that smokers who suffer from depression want to quit smoking as much as non-depressed smokers do, but their depression may stand in the way of their success. Researchers from the University of California at San Diego found that 24 percent of people who called the California Smokers’ Helpline currently suffered from major depression, and 17 percent had mild depression.

More than half of the callers (with or without depression) made at least one attempt to quit after calling. However, the success rate of those with major depression two months later was much lower than that of those who were mildly depressed or not depressed. About one in five people with major depression successfully quit smoking, but among those who were mildly depressed or not depressed, about one in three successfully quit smoking.

The researchers noted that most smokers’ helplines do not screen for depression, even though mild depression is already known to reduce the success rate of quitting. The implications of this study are important because the California helpline receives many calls from heavy smokers and those insured through Medicaid, both of which are associated with depression.

More than 400,000 smokers call smoking helplines in the United States every year, the researchers believe that up to 100,000 smokers suffering from depression are not getting the treatment they need.

Kiandra Hebert, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said that screening for depression can help predict if a smoker will be successful in quitting, but the screening would be more effective if it were linked to treatment services. She added that depressed smokers would have more success if they receive treatment for both depression and nicotine addiction.

Helplines are great avenues for offering these services to a large number of smokers who suffer from depression. Wendy Bjornson, co-director of the Oregon Health & Science University Smoking Cessation Center, said that treatment programs and helplines report that a greater number of callers have been diagnosed with other conditions, such as depression.

Bjornson said that the results of this study are important because they underscore the scope of the problem and can help scientists develop better ways to treat smokers for both depression and quitting smoking.

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