I was intrigued by a posting by Jonathon (he author's the Homeless & Disabled in Alabama blog at http://homelessalabamian.blogspot.com/ ) concerning the link between tobacco usage and mental illness. You can read the item he cited at:
In summary, the study shows a link between mental illness and use of tobacco. The rate of tobacco use is far higher in those with a diagnosed mental illness than in the rest of the population. I find the study interesting, but I take a slightly different stance on it.
I have heard about the on-going work to examine the mental health/smoking link and now Jonathon has found some of the results being reported. Like Jonathon suggests, I suspect that the article is factually true, but also like you I suspect that its "flavor" is in the spirit of the anti-tobacco prohibitionist fever.
My take on this is a bit different..... if tobacco use is to be seen for its palliative effects (its ability to be used by people for self-medication), what is wrong with that? Heck, I *do know* for a fact that some days..... my pipe is a driving motivator for me to keep going and to persevere through some sort of annoying or damnable activity I need to do. Sometimes after a really bad day at work, the pipe or two or three I have on the way home helps me to turn my mood when I left work (say for example on a bad day.... grouchy, frustrated, or angry-as-hell) into a much more gentle, serene family oriented mood.... (being able to shed the anger/frustration and refocus on the sharing with and caring for my family).
In the example above, I think the self-medicating abilities I have with my pipe and tobacco are truly one of its most amazing and special gifts! If it had no effect on me then I would not be interested in smoking. The most beautiful thing though about my pipe and tobacco is that it has this ability to have this effect, but not change my presence (such as drinking can do). After smoking a pipe, I am not "intoxicated" in the same way I *can* be after drinking. I'd make the same argument though for alcohol (which I also enjoy ).... it too can be a positive self administered medication. The only difference to me is that alcohol has the ability to intoxicate as well as medicate, so there are more options for its use..... and hence also
Now.... what does that mean to me overall? Yes, smoking and drinking are likely not healthy behaviors for the physical body. There is ample suggestion of that. But I think that the "self-medicating" properties of both are used in ways that are often very positive and helpful for the person. I know that for me, smoking my pipe and drinking both have been plusses in my life. The intoxicating portion of drinking can be a bit more dual-edged... it can be very positive, or if mismanaged can be a negative.
My true opinion on the link of smoking and mental health.... I think that most people in the mental health community have a MUCH MORE DIFFICULT time in acquiring the RIGHT KINDS of physician provided medical and health care. Though many of them can receive help via one source or another, I think many people with mental illness get shuffled to the sidelines of most health care situations.... doctor's will prescribe medications according to some vague protocol (at best) or will simply try to quell the "negative" aspects of a person's mental illness with medication to put that part of the brain into a stupor. Neither method is particularly effective in addressing what would be most beneficial to the mentally ill.... true understanding and supportive care. Therefore, I think it is wholly logical for most, if not all mentally ill individuals to use tobacco as a tool to attempt to better medicate themselves into a state of better mental health.
As a neurobiologist, I have studied the role of medications known as serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (most common forms are Prozac and Zoloft). The role of these perscription medications is to have the neurotransmitter serotonin stay in the synapses between neurons longer than it does in people with symptoms of depression. This medication can be very beneficial and useful for some individuals. Nicotine also affects these same pathways. Hence, the use of the tobacco leaf to alleviate emotional depression seems logical.
Just because a substance is not doctor prescribed does not mean it is inappropriate to use. The use of tobacco and alcohol has gone on for numerous centuries and has had positive and negative aspects. It is up to the individual to decide if the use of these substances is helpful for himself.