Upcoming App Makes Quitting Easier for Smokers with Severe Mental Health Issues

In 2014, a CDC survey found that about 17 percent of Americans smoke tobacco. For people with schizophrenia, that number is much higher – at least 60 percent according to most studies, and possibly as high as 88 percent. That’s quite the gap.

Given those numbers, it’s not surprising that people with schizophrenia are also less likely to quit smoking successfully. There are many reasons for that, both social and physiological, and not all of them have simple solutions. But with help from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, one company has set out to make the process as easy as possible with the help of a little technology.

Fast Company Design has the story of how Smashing Ideas, Seattle-based digital design firm, came together with psychiatrist Roger Vilardaga to create an app that would make quitting easier for people with severe mental health issues like schizophrenia. This isn’t just a story of gamification–Smashing Ideas looked at all the potential pain points in the app for users with severe mental illnesses and designed around them. This included accounting for tremors, avoiding cognitive overload, and illustrating abstract concepts.

The goal of Learn to Quit is to help patients quit smoking using Acceptance Commitment Therapy, a therapeutic technique that teaches acceptance and mindfulness through a series of exercises. Although they are often successful in treating addiction, anxiety, and depression, these concepts are largely abstract—which can be particularly difficult for the severely mentally ill to grasp through words alone.

“In his research, [Vilardaga] had found that illustration and visuals were really important to getting patients to understand these abstract ideas,” says Chad Otis, executive creative director at Smashing Ideas. “So he’d come up with about 300 Post-its worth of simple stick drawings to explain the concepts, which we worked to bring to life.”


Each hurdle that might make the app less useful for its target audience was treated with similar care and attention. Making the app accessible for people with tremors required doing away with small interface elements, for example. The result is an app that should be much friendlier to its audience, and incidentally to others with similar physical symptoms.

Learn to Quit is heading into clinical trials soon, and will hopefully be available to the public in the not-too-distant future.

[Fast Company]
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