Stop smoking program for people living with mental illness focuses on peer support, shared experience

Stock photo - two young people talking

Shelley has been trying to stop smoking for a while. She participated in a community stop smoking program with some success, but was drawn to a local stop smoking program for people living with mental illness due to the additional support it provided.

In 2017 The Canadian Mental Health Association, Kings County Branch, received an NSHA Chronic Disease Innovation Fund Grant to deliver The Mental Health Addictions Public Health Program (MAPP). The program is led by the Canadian Mental Health Association Kings County Branch and is supported by Community Health Boards for Central Kings, Western Kings, Clare, Digby and area, Shelburne County and Yarmouth County.

The 12-week program, which meets twice weekly, is endorsed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) as a best practice approach for smoking cessation for people with chronic mental illness.

“I like the fact that it’s two days a week,” said Shelley. “It gives me more support. I’m accountable twice a week so it makes me smoke less.”

Project co-ordinator Emma Van Rooyen agrees that the meeting frequency is part of the program’s success. “All literature has shown that people with chronic mental illness want to quit at same rates but standard programs aren’t enough – there’s a need for more than one meeting a week.”

Participants meet every Tuesday for their MAPP session, focusing on a specific theme each time, such as coping with stress. On Fridays, participants gather to share a meal – and their experiences – in a peer support session.

“There’s time for people to talk about how they’re dealing with their symptoms and elements of stopping smoking,” said Van Rooyen. “Participants feel less alone. There’s a room full of people who understand their experience. People feel secure to share experiences that are difficult. They’re learning a lot from each other and the complete lack of judgment is really helpful.”

“It’s been a really good experience,” said Shelley. “I’ve gone from smoking two cigarettes a day to smoking 10 cigarettes in the past month. I’m working on harm reduction right now.”

Shelley is noticing the physical benefits of smoking less already. “I’m finding I can go up and down stairs without all of the heavy breathing. My breathing in general is better. And I’m sleeping better.”

To those thinking about taking the program, Shelley advised, “I’d say do it. It’s the best choice I’ve made in my smoking. Doing it on my own, I wasn’t getting anywhere. Having that extra support is definitely beneficial. They’re very supportive and understanding and non-judgmental.”

Having seen such positive results, Shelley would like to take the program again. “I’m thinking of actually quitting. Slowly but surely I’m going to master it.”

For more information about the program, contact Emma Van Rooyen at stop.smoking@cmhakings.ns.ca or
902-300-3494.

To register, contact Kris Garby-Legge at Kris.garby@nshealth.ca or 902-365-1715.