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Mental health awareness means identifying risky behaviors, providing early intervention

Daily News - 5/7/2017

America has celebrated May as "Mental Health Month" for the past 68 years. The focus this year is on raising awareness and addressing the importance of being watchful for potentially dangerous or risky behaviors that could indicate symptoms of mental illness.

"We want to help people in our community gain a better understanding about mental illness," said Laura Gaines, director of adult services for LifeSkills. "As with many illnesses, both physical and emotional, the sooner care and treatment can begin, the better the outcome.

The more education we can broadcast to our schools and communities, the easier it will be to identify those who may be exhibiting symptoms. The next step is linking them to the services they need."

People experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently, and some engage in unsafe or risky behaviors to avoid or cover up indications of a potential mental health problem. Some of these high-risk or dangerous behaviors include:


When a person doesn't exercise enough or exercises too much, it has consequences for physical and mental health. A sedentary lifestyle may be a symptom of depression or anxiety when coupled with withdrawal from activities that the person used to enjoy or social isolation. Additionally, living a sedentary lifestyle increases a person's risk of developing depression. On the other hand, when compulsive exercise is used as a way to "purge" calories that have been consumed, it can be a symptom of an eating disorder. Eating disorders often accompany addiction. About 39 percent to 48 percent of people who have an eating disorder also struggle with exercise addiction.

Internet addiction

There is no one definition for internet addiction, but it is generally agreed upon that people who are addicted to the internet have trouble filling personal and professional obligations because of their online activities, and their use of the internet often causes strain on relationships with family and friends. People who are addicted to the internet can experience negative emotions or withdrawal symptoms when their internet access is restricted. Adults who are addicted to the internet are also likely to have depression, anxiety, alcohol problems, compulsive behaviors, sleep disorders, ADHD, anger issues and/or dissociative experiences.

Marijuana use

With laws in many states allowing the use of marijuana under a variety of circumstances, it is important to understand how it can affect mental health and when its use becomes a serious problem. Adults who have been diagnosed with marijuana use disorder have high rates of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, PTSD and ADHD. It is often difficult to determine whether the disorder appeared first, since many people use drugs to help them cope with symptoms they are experiencing.

Prescription drug misuse

Prescription medications are an important part of treating many health issues and are used effectively by millions of people. But when misused they become the problem instead of the solution. Misuse is when a person uses a prescription drug that is not intended for them or uses a prescription in a way that is different than how the doctor indicated. People with mental illness are three times more likely to misuse prescription drugs.


High-risk sexual behavior takes place when a person puts themselves at risk for negative consequences like catching a sexually transmitted disease or unplanned pregnancy. Compulsive or hypersexual behaviors may be induced by manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. More than 83 percent of people who identify as sex addicts have other addictions like alcohol or drug dependency, compulsive working behavior or compulsive gambling. People with compulsive sexual behaviors are at a higher risk for attempting suicide.

Compulsive buying

An uncontrollable desire to shop can result in spending large amounts of time and money. Generally, a person who buys compulsively does so in response to feelings of anxiety, depression or low self-esteem and often has problems with relationships and finances as a result. People who have compulsive buying disorder often meet the criteria for other mental illnesses such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, ADHD and a variety of impulse control disorders.

"Risky behaviors can be symptoms that could lead to discovery, identification and early intervention," Gaines said. "We can all work together to help reduce the burden of mental illness by recognizing symptoms and warning signs early and providing effective treatment as soon as possible."

For more information about available services, call LifeSkills at 270-901-5000.

? Maureen Mahaney coordinates public information for LifeSkills Inc., a nonprofit, behavioral health care corporation that plans for and serves the people of southcentral Kentucky. Her column appears monthly.


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