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Risky Business – we’re not talking underwear dancing!

How do you know when you’ve gone too far? Life is a series of choices, and our lives are often defined by those we make – and others that are made for us.

Sometimes people—especially young people— engage in potentially risky behaviors to manage, avoid or cover up symptoms of a mental health problem. It is often hard to distinguish these behaviors from “normal growing up,” and, as a result, the people who care about people engaging in these struggles sometimes under-react, and other times over-react.

May is National Mental Health Month and this year’s theme, Risky Business, is a call to educate ourselves and others about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses. Activities like compulsive sex, recreational drug use, obsessive Internet use, excessive spending or disordered exercise patterns can all be behaviors that can disrupt someone’s mental health and potentially lead them down a path towards crisis.

People experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently. How do you decide – is this particular behavior a risky behavior for me or for someone I love? And if it is, what can I do about it before it harms me or someone else?

Let’s take Internet addiction as an example. Some professionals classify Internet addiction as an obsessive compulsive disorder, while others liken it to an impulse control disorder. With Internet addiction treatment, the aim is to crease boundaries and balance round Internet use rather than eliminating it entirely. However, if there is a certain app, game or site that seems to be the focus of the addiction, stopping its use may be part of the treatment.

Here is a set of statements to check yourself. If you agree with most of the statements below, it may be time to seek help:

  • I think about being online almost constantly. If I’m not online, I’m thinking about the next time I can be or the last time that I was.
  • I need to be online longer and longer each time before I feel 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 I’m on the Internet or when I can get online.
  • The way I use the Internet has threatened a relationship with someone that 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 forget about my problems or improve my mood when I’m feeling sad, anxious or lonely.

It is important to understand early symptoms of mental illness and know when certain behaviors are potentially signs of something more. We need to speak up early and educate people about risky behavior and its connection to mental illness—and do so in a compassionate, judgment-free way.

If you are looking to help someone you know who suffers from mental illness, or you want to learn more about signs and symptoms, Mahaska Health Partnership Behavioral Health Services offers free classes on Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid. These eight-hour classes are intended for anyone who wants to understand more about mental illness.

Participants do not learn to diagnose, nor how to provide any therapy or counseling – rather, participants learn to support those going through a mental health challenge. To learn more, visit mahaskahealth.org or call 641.672.3159.

Published May 4, 2017

Ron Berges, DO

Ron Berges, DO, is a Psychiatrist who has been practicing for 26 years. He specializes in anxiety and mood disorders, but works with all areas of mental health. In his free time, he enjoys drag racing and hunting.

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