Risky Business: When Behavior Can Be a Warning Sign

Risky Business: When Behavior Can Be a Warning Sign

From Living a Sedentary Lifestyle to Compulsive Internet Use, Certain Conduct can be Indicative of a Deeper Mental Health Issue

To many, being sedentary is a way of life.  Spending most of the day in a chair or on the couch watching television is commonplace, nothing more than a bad habit.  But being sedentary or, on the flip side of that coin, not being able to miss a day at the gym without feeling guilty, is risky business.

Spending hour-after-hour on your computer perusing the Internet, using recreational drugs, shopping compulsively, or having sex compulsively are also behaviors that, left unchecked, could mean something more sinister.

“There are lots of risky behaviors,” says Danielle Fritze, senior director of Public Education and Visual Communications for the Alexandria, VA-based Mental Health America.  “Anything when taken to extremes can become a risk factor for developing further health problems.”  That can include drinking alcohol, smoking, a poor diet— or even working too much, like workaholics do.

Mental Health America identifies these behaviors as risky business because they can increase the risk of, or exacerbate, mental illness.  They can be indications, or warning signs, of one or more mental health problems.  The theme, “risky business,” was part of MHA’s recent public awareness campaign.

“Sedentary lifestyle may be a symptom of depression or anxiety when coupled with withdrawal from activities that one used to enjoy, or social isolation,” Fritze says.  “Additionally, living a sedentary lifestyle increases a person’s risk of developing depression.”

Conversely, compulsive exercise is also unhealthy.  “When compulsive exercise is used as a way to ‘purge’ calories that have been consumed, it can be a symptom of an eating disorder,” she adds.  “Approximately 39-48 percent of people who have an eating disorder also struggle with exercise addiction.”

Internet addiction, sometimes called computer addiction or compulsive Internet use, can also be a problem.  It may involve cybersex and Internet porn, cyber relationships on social media, online dating, surfing the web, or online gambling, trading, or games, according to mentalhealthamerica.net.

When it comes to substance abuse, marijuana is suspect.  “While MHA has no official position on marijuana use, what we know is that it can, but may not always, exacerbate mental health problems, and many people who use it don’t have mental illnesses,” Fritze says.  “In the case of psychotic disorders, marijuana may play a factor in their onset— but isn’t the exclusive reason for developing these kinds of disorders.”

Buying becomes risky when shopping becomes a compulsion.  Shopping is a thrill and when it is over the person may be sad, or disappointed about how much money he or she spent, according to mentalhealthamerica.net.  At-risk individuals may buy things they can’t afford, drain the checking account, or buy things to feel better.

Compulsive sexual behaviors are excessive or uncontrolled; they are an obsession that may cause harm or personal distress, according to mentalhealthamerica.net.  High-risk behavior can include unprotected sex, multiple partners, or sex when under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which leave participants vulnerable to sexually transmitted disease or unplanned pregnancy.

When there is an issue, recognizing it and intervening early is important.  “If you see warning signs of a problem, the odds of being able to treat the problem effectively are always better if you act early,” Fritze points out.  “Taking action early on to address a problem decreases the likelihood that someone will go into crisis or need to be hospitalized.”

Fritze summarizes that treatment options vary from self-help measures to hospitalization, and include peer support or group support, medication, and psychotherapy.

In addition to private psychiatrists and behavioral specialists, Central Florida offers a variety of resources, including Winter Haven Hospital’s Behavioral Health Services.  WHH offers inpatient and outpatient services, school-based services, and a peer recovery program, among other options.

Lakeland Regional Health has a number of psychiatrists available for mental, addictive, and emotional disorders— and lists their names and telephone numbers on their website.

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, consider taking a free and anonymous screen at MHAscreening.org.  Learn more about helping yourself at mentalhealthamerica.net/im-looking-mental-health-help-myself and helping others at mentalhealthamerica.net/im-looking-mental-health-help-someone-else.

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CHERYL ROGERS

Categories: Features, Health News

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