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Open Access Research article

Non-specific psychological distress, smoking status and smoking cessation: United States National Health Interview Survey 2005

David Lawrence*, Francis Mitrou and Stephen R Zubrick

Author Affiliations

1Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Centre for Child Health Research, The University of Western Australia, P.O. Box 855, West Perth, WA. 6872. Australia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:256  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-256

Published: 22 April 2011

Abstract

Background

It is well established that smoking rates in people with common mental disorders such as anxiety or depressive disorders are much higher than in people without mental disorders. It is less clear whether people with these mental disorders want to quit smoking, attempt to quit smoking or successfully quit smoking at the same rate as people without such disorders.

Methods

We used data from the 2005 Cancer Control Supplement to the United States National Health Interview Survey to explore the relationship between psychological distress as measured using the K6 scale and smoking cessation, by comparing current smokers who had tried unsuccessfully to quit in the previous 12 months to people able to quit for at least 7 to 24 months prior to the survey. We also used data from the 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing to examine the relationship between psychological distress (K6) scores and duration of mental illness.

Results

The majority of people with high K6 psychological distress scores also meet diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, and over 90% of these people had first onset of mental disorder more than 2 years prior to the survey. We found that people with high levels of non-specific psychological distress were more likely to be current smokers. They were as likely as people with low levels of psychological distress to report wanting to quit smoking, trying to quit smoking, and to have used smoking cessation aids. However, they were significantly less likely to have quit smoking.

Conclusions

The strong association between K6 psychological distress scores and mental disorders of long duration suggests that the K6 measure is a useful proxy for ongoing mental health problems. As people with anxiety and depressive disorders make up a large proportion of adult smokers in the US, attention to the role of these disorders in smoking behaviours may be a useful area of further investigation for tobacco control.