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Kendal at Oberlin Blog

Mental Health Month: Risky Business

Posted by Molly Kavanaugh on May 25, 2017 7:00:00 AM

senior couple holding handsHiking in the woods. Falling in love. Solo sailing.

These experiences are safe, but they also can be risky, as in “risky business”, which the dictionary describes as “a situation or activity that involves the possibility of being hurt.”

Same goes for the risky business activities that Mental Health America (MHA) is focusing on this month as part of its annual awareness campaign. Exercise, shopping and sex, for instance, are not unhealthy behaviors, but they could be.  

“We believe it's important to educate people about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. These include risk factors such as risky sex, prescription drug misuse, Internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use, and troublesome exercise patterns,” according to the 108-year-old nonprofit organization.

Mental Health Month: Risky Business

For Mental Health Month, the professionals at MHA have put together fact sheets, quizzes, screening tools and tips to avoid and stop these six risky behaviors. More information will be released in June at its annual conference, titled “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll.”

#1 Sex? Tell Me More…

Highlighting sex is one way to get people to pay attention to mental health.

“Sex is a completely natural and normal part of the human experience, and when practiced safely and with a respectful partner, it can have health benefits. For some people though, sex becomes an obsession and does more harm than good,” MHA explains.

Risky sexual behaviors, such as excessive porn watching, multiple partners and engaging in sex while under the influence of drugs, can result in unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, assault and destroyed relationships and careers.

MHA cites research that shows a strong correlation between compulsive sexual behavior and mental illness:

  • more than 83% of people who identify as sex addicts had other addictions, such as alcohol dependency;
  • 38% of people who identify as sex addicts have some form of eating disorder;
  • 58% of people who struggled with compulsive sexual behavior also had major depression at some point in their life;
  • people with compulsive sexual behaviors are at a higher risk for attempting suicide.

Support groups modeled after 12-step programs, therapy and medications are used to treat people with compulsive sexual behaviors.

#2 When Shopping Becomes a Mental Health Issue

Online shopping – via computers, tablets and smartphones – is 24/7, and that’s good news for men and women who are busy, don’t live near retail complexes and the like. But it can be bad news for people struggling with excessive shopping behavior.

In fact, professionals say online shopping can be even more destructive because shoppers have easy access to the competitive world of auctions and use credit cards.

“On the Internet, it’s not real money,” says Maressa Hecht Orzack, founder of the Computer Addiction Service at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard University. “If you get carried away, you can be in lots of trouble.”

Compulsive buying, whether in stores or online, affects about 6% of Americans in their lifetime.

MHA has put together a checklist to see if you are at risk:

  1. If I have money left in my paycheck, I have to spend it.
  2. Other people would judge me if they know how much I spend.
  3. I buy things that I can't afford.
  4. I've overdrawn my bank account buying things that I didn't need.
  5. Buying things makes me feel better.
  6. I'm anxious on days that I don't go shopping.
  7. I pay the bare minimum on my credit card(s), but keep charging items.

If you agree with most of these statements, take positive action. Talk to a counselor, attend a Debtors Anonymous support group, set a budget and use cash.

#3 The Internet and Mental Health

We sit down at the computer to find a recipe or raincoat, click on links and ads, and three hours later are no closer to accomplishing our goal.

Sound familiar?

Losing track of time is one of the symptoms of Internet addiction, though by itself, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem. Other symptoms include obsessive thinking about being online, damage to a relationship or job, and inability to reduce online use.

And surfing the Internet is just one of 5 types of Internet addiction identified by MHA.

The other four are:

  1. Cybersex and Internet porn;
  2. Online gambling, shopping or stock trading;
  3. Social media, online dating and other virtual communication;
  4. Online game playing.

Along with therapy and medication, exercise can also help curb Internet addiction.

“Exercise may be incorporated into internet addiction treatment to ease the effects of reduced dopamine in the brain resulting from restricted internet use,” MHA says, citing a study published in Psychological Science.  

#4 Finding the Right Balance of Exercise

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends regular physical activity for all ages and abilities.

For instance, people 65 and older who are generally fit and in good health should weekly get 2 ½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or biking, and engage in muscle-strengthening activities, such as lifting weights or yoga, at least 2 days. The CDC offers variations to meet this goal.

The dangers of not getting enough exercise are well documented and include obesity, depression, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This is a big problem, with 80% of adults not meeting the CDC guidelines.

Less known and much more uncommon, afflicting about 3%t of adults, is exercise addiction, or exercising too much.

“When a person misses important social or professional obligations so they can workout, feels extremely sad or guilty when they don’t exercise, doesn’t give their body time to recover after an intense workout, or continues to exercise despite illness or injury, it is called compulsive exercise, or exercise addiction,” MHA explains.

Health risks of too much exercise include dehydration and fatigue, increased injuries, cartilage damage and arthritis, fractured bones and osteoporosis, reproductive issues and heart problems.

Eating disorders often accompany exercise addiction.  

If you are sedentary, get moving, and if you are moving too much, take days off and pace yourself.

#5 Drugs Can Heal, Drugs Can Harm

Our doctor prescribes a medication, we follow the instructions, and our illness or pain goes away or is controlled. But prescription drugs are misused, which is defined as “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 (using larger amounts, taking it more often, or using it for longer than prescribed).”

Deaths from prescription opioid pain relievers continue to escalate, with the greatest increase in 2015 among adults aged 55 to 64 years old. But tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives also pose a threat.

Other findings from MHA include:

  • People diagnosed with a mental illness are three times more likely to misuse prescription drugs;
  • 16 percent of parents and 27 percent of teens believe that using prescription drugs to get high is safer than using street drugs;
  • more than 3.2 million people met the criteria for a prescription drug disorder in the past year, but less than half received treatment.

#6 Marijuana Abuse

As for marijuana, “the times they are a changin’” as a growing number of states continue to legalize its use for medicinal and recreational use. But, like alcohol, abuse is still a serious problem.

“Marijuana use becomes a problem when it interferes with a person’s ability to function in their personal and/or professional lives,” MHA says.

That’s a good parameter to keep in mind, whether it’s prescription or legalized drugs, or shopping, exercise and sex.

More Mental Health Info

During, before and after Mental Health Month, your mental health is important at Kendal at Oberlin. Read these blogs about mental health if you want to learn more:

Dance Your Way to Better Physical and Mental Health

The Healing Effects of Music

4 Benefits of Volunteering

To learn more, contact us online or by calling 800-548-9469 or 440-775-0094.

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