Did you know 1 in 5 American adults will face a mental health condition—major depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, or schizophrenia, to name a few—in their lifetime? While you may not have realized mental health concerns are so common, you may be aware people diagnosed with these conditions are often less likely to be hired, may be seen as irresponsible, are less likely to be able to find safe and affordable housing, may be viewed as violent and aggressive, and are often alienated in general.
Were you also aware that, as of 2012, about half of all American adults, or 117 million people, had one or more chronic health conditions? According to the Center for Disease Control, 7 of the top 10 causes of death in 2010 were a result of chronic disease. Chronic illnesses—conditions that cannot be cured—include arthritis, heart disease, fibromyalgia, and diabetes, among others. People diagnosed with chronic illnesses might often choose not to disclose their condition in order to avoid being treated differently or stigmatized.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and this awareness campaign works to draw attention to these facts and others, in order to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for equal care for those facing mental health issues. You may wonder why, if we’re talking mental health, I am also mentioning chronic illness. I mention it because there are many similarities between chronic medical conditions and mental health diagnoses. Beyond those similarities, if you understand the mind-body connection, you will understand why I feel confident in saying there is a positive correlation between our physical and mental health.
The nonprofit Mental Health America and its affiliates choose a theme for each Mental Health Month. This year’s theme, Risky Business, attempts to help people better understand the potential of certain behaviors and habits to increase risk for mental health issues, serve as a symptom of mental health concerns, or make existing conditions worse.
A client of mine recently asked, “What am I doing that is causing my mood swings?” Besides genetic and neurochemical factors, a number of other contributing behaviors could be having an impact on his mood. Likewise, for people with chronic medical conditions, certain behaviors can potentially contribute to pain and the worsening of symptoms.
Let’s focus on some of the risky behaviors that may indicate, influence the development of, or exacerbate both mental and physical health conditions:
- Sleep. Do you get enough rest? Sleep deprivation can lead to a higher risk of chronic health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease and can also increase the chance of stroke. Lack of sleep can also lead to memory and concentration problems, irritability, clumsiness, and emotionality. Long-term sleep deprivation is a problem that can also lead to genetic changes that may play a role in heart problems and other health issues.
- Drug use and abuse. Recreational and prescription drugs, when misused, can cause serious problems for both physical and mental health. The use of opioid pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives can influence the development of sleep issues and have sexual side effects. They also have the potential to lead to addiction. Some drugs can cause depressive symptoms, while others can lead to the development of anxiety or psychosis when misused.
- Risky sex. When people put themselves at risk for consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases or infections, unplanned pregnancy, or personal harm, they can be said to be engaging in high-risk sexual behavior. Compulsive sex (excessive or uncontrolled sexual behaviors or thoughts) can lead to lying, disregarding responsibilities, or having unrealistic expectations about sexual relationships. Compulsive or hypersexual behaviors may be induced by substance abuse, medications, tumors, or manic episodes (in people who have bipolar). Risk-taking behavior, which includes sexual activity, is also 1 of the 9 diagnostic criteria for borderline personality.
- Exercise extremes. Among American adults, 80% do not meet national guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Too little exercise can lead to obesity, colon and breast cancer, diabetes, and stroke and may also contribute to depression and cognitive decline. Conversely, 3% of people meet the criteria for behavioral addiction to exercise. Too much exercise can cause osteoporosis, heart problems, and reproductive issues.
- Nutrition. Whether you’re dealing with a physical illness or a mental health diagnosis, diet can contribute both positively and negatively to overall well-being. Too much salt, sugar, additives, and preservatives are known culprits for pain flare-ups and gut issues. Alcohol and caffeinated beverages can also contribute to nausea, depression, and anxiety—not to mention the impact they often have on sleep.
Which of these risky behaviors may be negatively contributing to your mental or physical health? Too much or too little of anything can easily throw our equilibrium out of kilter, resulting in consequences such as increased depression, mood swings, pain flare-ups, anxiety, and diminished health overall. Caring for ourselves by maintaining a balanced lifestyle can help keep our minds and bodies happy and healthy.
- Chronic diseases: The leading causes of death and disability in the United States. (2016, February 23). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview
- May is Mental Health Month 2017. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may
- Mental health month. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.nami.org
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