Smoking a Cause of Depression in Teenagers
Teenagers who smoke suffer a great risk of depression. This is according to research conducted over a period of seven years by UKZN Public Health academic, Dr Andrew Tomita who was lead author of a study titled: Evidence on the Association Between Cigarette Smoking and Incident Depression from the South African National Income Dynamics Study 2008–2015: Mental Health Implications for a Resource-Limited Setting.
The study was based on an analysis of data from the South African National Income Dynamics Study; a nationally representative sample of households at follow-up periods between the years 2008-2015. The cohort consisted of 14 118 adult participants who at baseline were depression free.
However, after tracking the participants, the researchers found that depression was significant in older adolescents (ages 15–19). This was observed in both men and women especially as adolescents are often developmentally vulnerable and disadvantaged socio-economically. Recent studies investigating the association of smoking, and later depression, confirmed this finding.
According to Tomita and co-author Dr Jennifer Manuel of New York University, although the underlying mechanisms are unclear, the hypothesis is based on the premise that prolonged nicotine alters the neurochemicals in the regulatory systems which may in turn make it difficult to regulate stress or emotions.
Tomita is a senior lecturer in UKZN’s School of Nursing and Public Health and a research associate at the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP). A United States citizen, his research interests includes studies of Critical Time Intervention (CTI) and investigating ways to improve the lives of individuals living with serious mental illness in the United States and South Africa.
Since relocating to UKZN, Tomita has implemented numerous mental health services studies in KwaZulu-Natal as project leader which were funded by NIH Fogarty International Center (FIC) and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as part of the prestigious Fogarty International Clinical Research/Global Health Research fellowships.
‘Given the limited health services infrastructure in many developing countries, our findings highlight the need to implement cigarette smoking prevention and cessation approaches to reduce their use and treat depression,’ said Tomita. Teenagers diagnosed with depression may exhibit several behavioural issues such as irresponsible behavior, excessive sleeping, substance abuse, withdrawal from friends and family, memory loss and rebellious behavior etc.
Tomita and Manuel commented on possible treatment options for those afflicted, ‘There is limited evidence on effective treatment options for young smokers with current depression. However, a recent systematic review of smoking-cessation treatments among adult smokers with current depression suggests that depressed patients can quit smoking with effective smoking-cessation treatments, especially pharmacological treatments, and these strategies must be encouraged.’
Words: MaryAnn Francis