One in four people worldwide will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives (10 Facts On Mental Health, n.d.). Since May is Mental Health Month here in the United States I thought it might be good to talk mental health facts and some risky behaviors that may prevent mental illness.
Mental health problems affect everyone. Even though you might not be suffering from mental health problems yourself there is a good chance you know someone who is. Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental illnesses (Dispelling Myths on Mental Illness, 2015). According to Corrigan (2004), it “diminishes self-esteem and robs people of social opportunities”. We can be a part of the solution in breaking the stigma with mental health problems. The best thing we can do educate ourselves.
Mental Health Problems are Prevalent
Myth: Mental health problems don’t affect me.
Fact: Mental health problems are more prevalent than people think.
- One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue
- One in twenty-five Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
Over 800,000 people commit suicide worldwide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds.
Children and Mental Health
Myth: Children don’t have mental health problems it is just bad parenting.
Fact: Around 20 percent of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems (10 Facts On Mental Health, n.d.).
Half of all mental health disorders present symptoms before a person turns 14 years old, and seventy-five percent of mental health disorders begin before age 24. Environmental factors, like parenting, affect a child’s mental well-being, but it is not a cause and effect relationship. Mental illnesses are a side effect of many different factors, including biological, genetic, environmental, and social factor (Risks To Mental Health: An Overview Of Vulnerabilities And Risk Factors, 2012).
Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of children with diagnosable mental health problems receive proper treatment (Mental Health Myths and Facts, 2013).
Mental Health Factors
Myth: Personality weakness or character flaws cause mental health problems. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough.
Fact: Mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
- Biological factors, such as genes, physical illness, injury, or brain chemistry
- Life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse
- Family history of mental health problems (Mental Health Myths and Facts).
Coping with Mental Illness
Myth: Mental illness cannot be cured. There is nothing I can do to help.
Fact: People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely with the right treatment plan. While some disorders like anxiety and depression only require treatments for a short period of time, other chronic conditions when following a treatment plan people can live happy lives.
There is a lot you can do to help people in your life who have mental illnesses.
- You would never say that “she is cancer” when referring to a cancer patient. Same rules apply for mental health problems. Instead of saying “he is bipolar” say “he has a bipolar disorder”.
- Avoiding using derogatory slang such as saying a person is “crazy”, “insane”, or “nuts” when referring an individual with a mental health disorder. This is only perpetuating the stigma that makes it difficult for people to seek out and follow through with proper treatments.
- Learn as you can about mental health conditions – especially if someone close to you has been diagnosed with one.
- Applaud them in seeking treatment and be supportive of their treatment plan.
- Treat them like normal. Because they have a mental illness doesn’t mean that they are broken. They are no less of a person and deserved to be treated with respect.
- Prepare a crisis plan. Don’t be afraid to address the elephant in the room and ask difficult questions (Dispelling Myths on Mental Illness).
Risky Behaviors and Identifying Possible Problems
There are four risky behaviors we are going to talk about that maybe putting you at a higher risk of developing or intensifying a current mental illness. These risky behaviors could also be signs of a mental health problem.
Prescription Drug Misuse
Prescription medications are an important part of treating many health issues. However, misused they become a problem instead of a solution. Misuse is when a person uses a prescription drug for unintended purposes, or in a way that is different than a doctor prescribed: larger amounts, taking it more often, or using longer than prescribed. People with mental illness are three times more likely to abuse prescription drugs. The most common kinds of drugs people misuse are:
- Opioid pain relievers (12.5 million*)
- Tranquilizers for anxiety and muscle spasms (6.1 million*)
- Stimulants (5.3 million*)
- Sedatives (1.5 million*)
*In the U.S.
These medications have the potential risk to lead to addiction.
It is always dangerous to use prescription drugs that do not belong to you—or in a way that is not prescribed. The following checklist can help determine if you have a serious problem with prescription drugs:
- Used prescription drugs in large amounts or for longer than intended.
- Wanted to stop misusing prescription drugs, but were unsuccessful in your attempts to quit.
- Spent a great deal of time getting, using, or recovering from prescription drugs that you have been misusing.
- Had strong cravings or urges to misuse a prescription drug.
- Failed to perform work, school, or home duties because of misuse.
- Continued to misuse despite it causing problems with relationships.
- Stopped participating in activities you used to enjoy because of prescription drug misuse.
- Misused prescriptions in dangerous situations (driving, etc.).
- Continued misusing prescription drugs despite physical or mental health problems that it has caused or made worse.
- Developed a tolerance (needed more to get the desired effect) to a prescription you were misusing
If you have experienced two or more of the following signs you are not alone. More than 3.2 million people in the U.S. met the criteria for a prescription drug use disorder in the past year. Less than half of those people got treatment.
What can you do to prevent prescription drug misuse?
First, use the medications as directed. Second, talk to your doctor about non-addictive options for your treatment option if you feel that you are at risk for misusing your prescriptions. Also, make sure to consult your healthcare provider before adjusting medication dosage. Store and dispose of your medications properly. More than half of people who misuse prescription pain relievers get them from friends or relatives. Most importantly call emergency services or get immediate help if you or a loved one have a medical emergency related to prescription medications.
While there is not a definition for internet addiction, there is a general consensus that people who are addicted have trouble meeting personal and professional obligations. Their internet activity causes strain on their relations and may experience negative emotions or withdrawal symptoms without, or limited, internet access. There are five types of internet addiction: cybersexual, net compulsions, cyber-relationships, gaming, and information seeking.
There is debate about which comes first, internet addiction or the co-occurring mental illness that is correlated between the two. Adults and teenagers alike who are addicted to the internet may also be likely to have depression, anxiety, alcohol problems, compulsive behaviors, sleep disorders, ADHD, anger issues, and/or dissociative experiences.
Are you dealing with internet addiction?
If you agree with most of the statements below, it may be time to seek help:
- I think about being online almost constantly. If not online, I’m thinking about the next time I can be or that last time that I was.
- A need to be online longer and longer each time before feeling satisfied.
- I have tried to control, reduce, or stop my internet use, but haven’t been able to do so successfully.
- I feel irritable or depressed when I try to reduce the amount of time that I am on the internet or when I can’t get online.
- The way I use the internet has threatened a relationship with someone I care about, my job, or my school work.
- I lose track of time when I’m online.
- I sometimes lie to important people in my life about the amount of time I spend, or the types of activities I participate in on the Internet.
- Being online helps me to forget about my problems or improve my mood when I’m feeling sad, anxious, or lonely.
Take control of your internet use!
- Take breaks. For example, try to take a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of internet use.
- Fill your free time activities that are physically intense or require a lot of concentration to distract you from thinking about going online.
- Don’t bring your smartphone or tablet with you when you leave the house.
- Keep track of non-essential internet use (use that isn’t related to school or work) to see if you notice patterns. Do you go online when you are bored? Are you going online to relieve feelings of loneliness or depression?
- Make a list of things of things that you enjoy doing or need to get done that don’t include the internet. If you feel tempted to go online, choose an activity from your list instead.
You thought you might get a whole post where I don’t mention exercise, think again. Exercising too much, or too little, can have consequences for your mental health.
Being sedentary is when a person does not meet the bare minimum recommendations for physical activity. Unfortunately, eighty percent of adults in the U.S. do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities of 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
Exercise addiction is when a person misses important social or professional commitments so they can get in their workout. They also feel extreme guilt when they don’t get in exercise. Another sign is that they don’t give their body adequate rest between intense workouts or continue to exercise despite illness or injury. Three percent of people meet the requirement for behavioral addiction to exercise.
How is exercise related to mental illness?
Sedentary lifestyle may be a symptom of depression or anxiety when coupled with withdrawal from activities that one used to enjoy or social isolation. Additionally, living a sedentary lifestyle increases a person’s risk of developing depression. 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 exercise addiction. Almost 50 percent of people who have an eating disorder also struggle with exercise addiction.
If you’ve been living a sedentary lifestyle and want to get started with an exercise program:
- Talk to your doctor to see if there are any special considerations you should take when exercising.
- Start slow and work up to harder activities.
- Find a friend to exercise with to keep you motivated and accountable.
- Take control of compulsive exercise
- Take days off from exercising or substitute your normal routine with less strenuous workouts.
- Remind yourself that a certain body type or weight will not automatically lead to happiness.
- Avoid negative self-talk like, “You’re a lazy slob if you don’t go to the gym” or “Nobody will want to date you with a body like that.”
- Make sure you are eating enough to fuel your body for exercise.
- Tell a trusted friend or family member about your struggles. Make plans to do something besides workout a couple of days each week.
- Know when to seek professional help.
Don’t be afraid to talk about mental illness. If you are in a crisis call for emergency help.
10 facts on mental health. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2017, from http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/mental_health_facts/en/
Background Paper By Who Secretariat For The Development Of A Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan [Abstract]. (2012). Risks To Mental Health: An Overview Of Vulnerabilities And Risk Factors. Retrieved May 3, 2017, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/mhgap/risks_to_mental_health_EN_27_08_12.pdfBackground Paper By Who Secretariat
For The Development Of A Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan [Abstract]. (2012). Risks To Mental Health: An Overview Of Vulnerabilities And Risk Factors. Retrieved May 3, 2017, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/mhgap/risks_to_mental_health_EN_27_08_12.pdf
Corrigan, P. (2004). How Stigma Interferes With Mental Health Care. American Psychologist, 59(7), 614-625. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.59.7.614