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Risky Business: Habits and Behaviors that Increase the Risk of Developing a Mental Health Disorder

According to statistics, approximately one in five Americans will be affected by a mental health condition at least once in their lifetime and this impact has a major ripple effect on their friends and family. Four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the United States and other developed countries are mental health disorders, specifically major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Throughout the first week in October, mental health organizations and advocates will be rallying and raising awareness about the importance of maintaining good mental health and seeking treatment for mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and eating disorders. Although eliminating stigma, recognizing symptoms and seeking treatment is extremely important, it is also crucial to understand the behaviors and patterns that can cause mental illness or can worsen a preexisting mental health disorder.

Prescription drug misuse

Prescription drug abuse, while most prevalent in the United States, is a problem in many areas around the world. In the United States alone, more than 15 million people abuse prescription drugs, more than the combined number who reported abusing cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin and result in the largest percentage of deaths from drug overdose, with opioid prescriptions being the leading cause. Other commonly abused prescription drugs besides opioids include stimulants, benzodiazepines and antidepressants. Abusing prescription drugs can result in addiction, which can lead to severe feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, irritability, anxiety that can develop into mental health disorder.

Alcohol and illicit drug abuse

Alcohol is the most common abused substance in the United States and many individuals use alcohol to cover up existing unhealthy thoughts and relationships, which can lead to depression and anxiety. Illicit drug use such as cocaine, heroin, MDMA, methamphetamines other street drugs have been known to alter the brain chemistry by changing the levels of dopamine and serotonin, which can affect an individual’s mood and insight. Substance abuse is highly correlated with mental health disorders and it may be difficult to differentiate which one of the two presented first.

Excessive spending

Shopping for clothes, buying cars or gambling are ways to temporality relieve stress and provoke feelings of happiness however after the “high” has subsided, excessive spending can leave an individual with stressful financial burdens and the feelings of needing more materialistic things. Excessive spending is closely connected with mania and if often seen in individuals with bipolar disorder but can also be associated with other mental health disorders such as anxiety.

Unhealthy exercise and eating habits

Dieting, weight restriction, excessive exercise and unhealthy thoughts about weight and body image can result in disorders eating habits such as binging and purging. These disordered eating habits can not only result in an eating disorder but can also lead to inadequate feelings of self worth, depression, anger and the need for self-control. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa often co-exist with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Harboring unhealthy thoughts regarding food, weight and body image can result in distressing psychological trauma and can worsen existing mental health disorders.

Risky sexual behavior

Participating in risky sexual behavior can result in many health problems, not to mention can lower an individual’s self esteem. It is common for individuals to mistake physical intimacy for love and respect and as a result, feelings can become disoriented and emotions can spiral out of control leaving one feeling sad, abused, burdened and alone. The negative feelings associated with risky sexual behavior can result in a downward spiral leading to depression or anxiety or worsening an existing mental health disorder. This especially holds true for adolescents and young adults who are not yet fully emotionally mature and are experimenting with sexual behaviors. Using intimacy to feel a void can be more burdensome than the existing void.

Internet addiction

Internet addiction is closely ties to the theory of instant gratification meaning an individual can seek whatever they desire at the click of a button. Instant connections with friends through social media, dating websites, online shopping, online gambling, online gaming and the need to always be connected 24/7 can result in severe feelings of anxiety and depression. An individual can become dependent on their smart phone or computer and can isolate themselves from real life human interactions, which can severely affect their mood, emotions and their thought patterns.

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