Tobacco found to add to risk of depression and schizophrenia

Tobacco smoking increases the risk of depression and schizophrenia according to a major new study published today.

Data shows tobacco smoking can have adverse effects on mental health. Picture: Getty Images
Data shows tobacco smoking can have adverse effects on mental health. Picture: Getty Images

It is well known that smoking is much more common amongst people with mental illness – especially depression and schizophrenia.

However, previous studies that have looked at this association have not been able to disentangle whether this is a cause-and-effect relationship, and if so in which direction.

A team led by researchers from the University of Bristol used UK Biobank data from 462,690 individuals of European ancestry, comprising eight per cent current smokers and 22 per cent former smokers.

The team applied an analytic approach called Mendelian randomisation, which uses genetic variants associated with an exposure (eg smoking) to support stronger conclusions about cause-and-effect relationships. They found evidence that tobacco smoking increased risk of depression and schizophrenia, but also that depression and schizophrenia increase the likelihood of smoking (although the evidence was weaker in this direction for schizophrenia).


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The study is published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

It adds to a growing body of work suggesting that smoking can have adverse effects on mental health.

The same group published a similar study in British Journal of Psychiatry earlier this year in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam, showing evidence that tobacco smoking increases the risk of bipolar disorder.

The UK government’s mental health task force made the recommendation in their 2016 review that psychiatric hospitals should be smoke-free by 2018.


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This new evidence adds further weight to support the implementation of smoke-free policies.

Not only is there evidence that smoking can be detrimental for mental health, but much of the excess mortality associated with mental illness is due to smoking.

Dr Robyn Wootton, Senior Research Associate in the School of Experimental Psychology and the study’s lead author, said: “Individuals with mental illness are often overlooked in our efforts to reduce smoking prevalence, leading to health inequalities.

“Our work shows that we should be making every effort to prevent smoking initiation and encourage smoking cessation because of the consequences to mental health as well as physical health.”