Campaign to snuff out smoking gets underway

Crawford County Avalanche by Dan Sanderson-Staff Writer, Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Northern Lakes  Community Mental Health officials on Sept. 15 kicked off a campaign to help people dealing with mental illness to snuff out their smoking habits and designated their office areas as tobacco-free campuses.

The Lung Association in Michigan received a Community Transformation Grant from the Centers for Disease Control to partner with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health and other human service agency representatives from Crawford, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Missaukee, Roscommon and Wexford Counties to work on a groundbreaking 12-month smoking cessation project. The grant is one of five CDC grants in the country, and the only one focused on people with mental illness.

People with significant mental illness die 25  years younger than the general population, often due to conditions caused or worsened by smoking.

Bill Blatt, the director of tobacco programs for the American Lung Association, said people impacted by mental illness self medicate with tobacco and use it as a means for mood regulation.

“Certain parts of the population have benefited from some of the progress and educational efforts we have made regarding the benefits of quitting smoking but others haven’t benefited from those advances,” Blatt said.

The project’s primary goals are to train mental health professionals to better screen for tobacco use, support and assist persons with mental illness to stop using  tobacco and assist Northern Lakes Community Mental Health to realize its vision as a tobacco-free culture.

Northern Lakes Community Mental Health has assembled a strong community leadership team with more than 60 partners from a variety of agencies committed to the success of the project. A community needs assessment was conducted by stakeholders involved.

Mental health providers will add the five As, ask, advise, assess, assist and arrange, into protocols and electronic medical records and educate and provide smoking cessation support to staff and the clients the agency serves. Quit resources, both national and local, are being collected on a special web page.

Over 40 percent of people with mental illness use tobacco and 70 percent of those tobacco users with mental illness want to quit.

“Asking each person if they use tobacco, advising them to stop if they do and helping them with cessation resources is critical to their success,”  said Jim Harrington, an advocacy specialist for the American Lung Association in Michigan from Petoskey. “Persons with mental illness can and have successfully quit using tobacco, dramatically improving the quality and length of their life. In addition, because tobacco use can decrease the effectiveness of many psychiatric medications, those people with mental illness who quit may respond better to treatment or less medication for their mental illness. This project will definitely save lives.”

Sahra Colford, a certified peer support specialist for Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, is part of the leadership team and kicked the smoking habit after 20 years as community health officials are moving forward with this initiative.

“I am working on that total package. I need to be both physically and mentally healthy for my own future and also to give hope to others about what is possible,” Colford said. “For me, the first step to physical health is freedom from nicotine. I made a decision to quit smoking so I have the lungs to exercise, so I can have a physically healthy future and in turn have a mentally healthy future. They go hand in hand and now I can  tell others I did it.”

After several trips to the emergency room and witnessing a friend’s death, Carla, a Northern Lakes Community Health client, stopped smoking at the age of 70 after 52 years.

“Seeing this person drop dead from a massive heart attack was a rude awakening. She was overweight, a heavy smoker, four years younger than me. It was very depressing,” Carla said. “I had to come to terms with myself that I’d rather be able to breathe, and have some quality of life after 70 years, than snuff out my life with something as poisonous as smoking.”

Carla plans to share her story with younger people with mental illness who spend time at a drop in center, a club where people served by Northern Lakes Community Mental Health  get together.

“I want to cry sometimes when I see young kids smoking. The main thing that has helped me has been returning to the club, using my hands. I’m washing pots and pans, anything I can do to keep my hands busy. Anyone can do it, but it has to be for yourself.”

Along with the educational efforts with clients, signs are posted around Northern Lakes Community Mental Health offices to notify visitors that they are  tobacco-free areas.

Blatt hopes to see successful results from the project that will be duplicated across the country.

“We’re thrilled to have a partner and we’re really excited to see the whole thing come to fruition,” Blatt said. “The idea is  trying it here, and if it is a success, we will take it on a larger scale across the county.”