Behavioral health conditions are increasing with each generation and are prevalent at home, in the workplace, at schools and within the community. While these conditions share similar signs and symptoms it can be very difficult to identify them. These conditions present themselves in behaviors and attitudes that may be uncomfortable to address with yourself or a loved one, leaving those who suffer to go undiagnosed and untreated. But, the reality is that most of us know someone, family members, friends, colleagues, students, etc. who are impacted by these conditions. In fact, you may be living with a behavioral health condition and not realize it.
For years, healthcare education has focused on improving awareness of the symptoms and signs that something may be wrong with our physical health. At Blue KC, we believe it’s time to make the symptoms of a behavioral health condition just as widespread. Why can’t talking about signs of depression be as common as talking about the flu? To start, we have identified six attributes of a behavioral health condition.
1. Living with a Chronic Condition
Twenty or so years ago, behavioral health was treated in the context of chronic conditions. In the simplest form, it was medical professionals making suggested behavioral changes to manage conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Suggestions were things like exercise and eating healthy.
We have now coupled behavioral health and chronic conditions, because those living with a chronic condition are more prone to a mental illness and/or a substance use disorder. For example, those living with a cardiac condition often develop depression.
If you know someone living with a chronic condition, be on high alert for the signs and symptoms listed below.
We all have those days – days where we prefer to stay home, binge TVs shows and avoid the outside world. This behavior can indicate a behavioral health issue when the activity is the norm, not an exception. Whether a mental illness or a substance use disorder, social withdrawal is a common characteristic. Individuals are more likely to avoid friends and social interactions. They are reluctant to make plans with others and spend extended periods of time alone.
Isolation is not only a symptom of a behavioral health condition; it is also a gateway to other conditions. Social isolation and loneliness can impact physical, mental and cognitive health.
3. Mood Swings
Severe changes in someone’s mood, whether instant or prolonged, is likely the most known symptom of a behavioral health condition. It is important to note there are many forms of a mood change. It may be irritability and anger, extreme sadness or happiness. Depression can also cause someone to be more nervous, tense or restless. A substance use disorder can result in a substance-induced mood disorder, changing the way someone acts. For example, the American Psychiatric Association reports that alcohol and other substance use can lead to severe mood swings.
4. Change in Performance
While broadly stated, large changes in a person’s performance are symptoms of a behavioral health condition. For example, a significant change in a child’s school performance or on a sports team may be a sign of a behavioral health disorder. Young children may not have the ability to communicate their emotions so their behaviors more often reflect their emotional state. Similarly, adults can mask emotion. If you notice a decrease in their performance at work, this could be a result of poor mental well-being. Other factors already noted can also impact performance – repeatedly not showing up to work or frequent mood changes can result in the inability to handle daily tasks, problems and stress.
5. Physical Health Issues
A behavioral health condition can have a direct impact on our physical health. Why? As stated in our What is Behavioral Health post, behavioral health and physical health are closely linked. When one suffers from a mental health issue, it can affect their ability to make healthy decisions, causing a:
- Change in appetite
- Change in sleeping habits and lack of energy
- Weight loss or gain
- Change in an exercise routine
- Neglected appearance or hyper-focus on appearance
When treating a behavioral health condition, now more than ever, medical professionals are using an integrated approach to improve an individual’s whole health. Without cotreatment, a mental and substance use disorder can lead to chronic conditions and vice versa as noted earlier in this post. At Blue KC, we’re doing this through Spira Care. To treat our members’ whole self, we have combined our primary care and behavioral health services under one roof.
6. Suicidal Thoughts
Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people 18 to 65 years old. As stated by the National Institute of Mental Health, it does not discriminate by gender, age or ethnicity. Of those at risk for suicide, most suffer a behavioral health condition or have a family history of a mental health or substance use disorder.
The major cues to be on the lookout for include an individual talking about being a burden to others, feeling trapped or hopeless, or talking about dying or killing oneself. This is in addition to the major signs already discussed throughout this post. It is also important to keep a pulse on comments or content shared online on social networking sites.
When in doubt, if you hear someone mention suicidal thoughts or you find them looking for ways to harm themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 immediately. They will provide you with guidance on how to proceed.
While this list can help you identify potential signs that you or someone you love may be suffering with a behavioral health condition, keep in mind that all signs and symptoms are linked to day-to-day functionality – how you get through your daily responsibilities. It’s common for a person struggling with a behavioral health condition to also struggle accomplishing their normal day-to-day functions. A functionality assessment can assist in determining if an individual is living with a behavioral health condition.
There are many reasons why people living with a behavioral health condition do not receive the necessary diagnosis or treatment. Some may think their actions and behaviors are the norm while others shy away from discussing due to the stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use disorder. In addition to these personal feelings and thoughts, the other barriers to care are access and cost. At Blue KC we are working hard to address all barriers to behavioral healthcare.
For more information about Blue KC’s behavioral health offerings, call our behavioral health partner, New Directions. The Behavioral Health number is on the back of your Blue KC ID member card: 1-800-528-5763.
Rebecca Gernon, M.D.
Dr. Rebecca Gernon is a Medical Director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC). Dr. Gernon leads Blue KC’s medical cost and quality stewardship activities, oversees Blue KC’s cost affordability initiatives and engages with employers and providers to enhance the quality of care for members.