Breathe Free Supports FH Smokers to Kick the Habit

Posted on February 8, 2013

Breathe Free helps the Fountain House community ground that cigarette out for good!Breathe Free helps the Fountain House community ground that cigarette out for good!Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released new data that show one of every three adults with mental illness smokes, compared with one in five adults without mental illness. Although we suspect this number is slightly lower among the Fountain House membership (and plan to gather data to evaluate that claim), there’s no question that smoking represents a major health risk to our community.  

In order to support members in their efforts to quit smoking or to help them cut back on smoking, we created the Fountain House Breathe Free program. We hold a meeting each week (Tuesdays at 5 pm) where members come together to discuss their efforts, learn about possible approaches to aid in smoking cessation, and hear updates from their peers, all while cultivating an atmosphere of trust and mutual support. The meetings are structured such that there is time at the beginning of each meeting for any relevant announcements and members are encouraged to bring up any issues that are currently significant (e.g. Mayor Bloomberg’s recent ban on smoking in parks and beaches, President Obama’s struggles to kick his smoking habit, efforts to curtail smoking within Fountain House, etc.). Often times this involves reading through a magazine or newspaper article. Periodically, the group will watch a film on the topic or invite a guest speaker - usually a member or staff that has successfully quit smoking - to talk about their experience and answer any questions group members pose. Each meeting features a discussion aspect on topics including:
·         Stress reduction techniques
·         Triggers
·         Stages of change
·         Behavioral adaptation
·         Resources in New York City
At the end of each meeting each member has an opportunity for a personal check-in. During this time they share with the group what their specific short-term goal was for the week and how it went. They may bring up what went well, in which areas they could use more support, or ask questions of the group.
The weekly group typically consists of 5 to 15 people. In 2012, 40 members received support with smoking cessation through these groups. Given that Fountain House has about a thousand active members, we can reasonably estimate that about 300 of them are smokers. We clearly have much work to do in terms of recruiting and engaging more members in smoking cessation efforts.
However, the member success stories are the heart of the inspiration and mutual support that provide the foundation for the Breathe Free Program. Just this week, a member who has been part of the group on and off for the past six years announced that he had been without a cigarette for two and a half weeks. Another long-time group member is going on four months smoke-free. The group meeting provides the forum for continued support, shared struggles, frustrations, encouragement, and hope.
Several group members have written about their experiences for the weekly Fountain House Newspaper and/or attended trainings on tobacco cessation in mental health programs and specifically within the clubhouse environment. Group leaders are also available to meet with people individually for additional support. The goal of the program is to continue to expand and to incorporate different methods of support to attract more members to the group.

Joseph Shaffer
Wellness Unit Leader, Fountain House

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