Can Secondhand Smoke Affect Your Mental Health?

Community Member

We have known for some years that smoking increases your risk for a wide variety of medical problems and disorders. We know that smoking is a risk factor for:

I have just scratched the surface with these examples. Smoking is also linked to an increased risk of developing certain types of skin cancers. And it also prematurely ages your skin.

In addition to being harmful for your physical health, smoking is also detrimental to your mental health. I just wrote a post on Anxiety Connection about how smoking, particularly if you begin in adolescence, can up your chances for developing panic attacks or other anxiety related symptoms.

We also know that smoking is associated with mental health disorders including depression. The Tobacco Cessation Leadership Network has a fact sheet about mental illness and smoking. One of the facts listed is that among current smokers, the most common current (within the last 30 days) mental health diagnoses include: Major Depressive Disorder, Substance Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, and Anxiety disorders.

The list of adverse effects on a smoker's physical and mental health, are staggering. But now we understand that smoking doesn't just affect the person who smokes. It also affects the person who inhales the secondhand smoke. Member John recently pointed out a new study which shows an association between a greater incidence of psychological distress among nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Last week Time   and other news sources reported on this study which makes the claim that secondhand smoke can affect mental health. Researcher Mark Hamer at the University College of London and his colleagues took a look at over eight thousand men and women for the mental health effects of secondhand smoke. Their study, "Objectively Assessed Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Mental Health in Adults" published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that there was a 50% greater risk of psychological distress in nonsmokers with the highest levels of nicotine residue in their blood when they compared these subjects to those with the lowest levels. While the researchers have not proven a causal link between second hand smoke and negative changes in mood, they do feel there is a strong association.

Past studies had found a link between smoking and mood disorders, particularly with an increased risk of depression and anxiety symptoms. Hamer and his colleagues were attempting to answer the question as to whether the same findings could be associated with secondhand smoke. The implications are quite serious considering that 50 to 60 percent of Americans are still exposed to secondhand smoke according to the American Cancer Society. I was definitely part of this statistic as I lived for over twenty years with a mother who smoked three packs a day. Then when I was working as a young adult in the mental health field, smoking was part of every therapy or hospital setting where I was physically present. Now that there are more bans on smoking in public places, more people are smoking at home where non-smoking loved ones may be exposed to second hand smoke.

Smokers who need one more impetus to quit aside from your own physical and mental health, is the health of your loved ones and family members. Nicotine can be an especially tough addiction to break. But Health Central has resources, information and support to help you. Here are some articles you may want to read if you are ready to quit smoking:

Do you suffer from both depression and nicotine addiction? Have you tried to stop smoking? What helped the most in your attempts to quit? Do you feel that secondhand smoke can cause depression or anxiety symptoms for nonsmokers who are exposed? Or do you feel that this study is full of hot air? Let us know your thoughts. We want to hear from you