Did you know that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S or more than 43.8 million people experience mental illness each year? While mental illness can be an invisible disability, it impacts people at home, work, school, and in the community. It is an issue we struggle with at the local, state and national level. How do we better connect people to resources and supports when they are needed and before getting out of control? What are some of the risk factors or habits and behaviors that contribute to or increase the seriousness of mental illnesses?
Mental Health America describes these behaviors as “risky business:” risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use, and troublesome exercise patterns. So what makes these so risky and how can you help people, especially young people, who may struggle with these risky behaviors and need help in getting support?
People experience symptoms of mental illnesses differently. Sometimes people, especially young people, engage in potentially risky behaviors to manage, avoid, or cover up symptoms of a mental health problem. This year’s campaign is highlighting some activities that may be overlooked as signs of risky behaviors such as:
- disordered exercise patterns
- obsessive internet use
- prescription drug misuse
- recreational drug use
- excessive spending, or
- compulsive sex
These behaviors can derail someone’s mental health and wellness and potentially lead them down a path towards crisis or risky business. So, let’s talk about risky behaviors.
How can exercise be one of the behaviors that can lead to risky business? It happens when a person doesn’t exercise enough (lives a sedentary lifestyle) or exercises too much (compulsive exercise). A sedentary lifestyle may be a symptom of depression or anxiety especially when it is coupled with withdrawal from activities that one used to enjoy or social isolation. Compulsive exercise may be a risky behavior if it is used to “purge” calories and may lead to an eating disorder.
Obsessive Internet Use
Using the Internet has become part of our daily lives. But it becomes risky business when a person loses the balance between their time online and their time offline. Losing this balance, or internet addiction, is often seen in response to mental health challenges such as drug and substance use, depression, anxiety, difficulty attending and focusing (ADHD), phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder or aggression issues.
Prescription Drug Misuse
Some of the most commonly misused prescription drugs are: opioid pain killers, tranquilizers (used for anxiety and muscle spasms), sedatives (used for sleep disorders), and stimulants (used for ADHD and obesity). People who misuse prescription drugs may be self-medicating to control symptoms of an existing and possibly undiagnosed physical or mental health disorder, or because they like the way the drugs make them feel. It becomes a risky behavior whenever you use prescription drugs that do not belong to you or for a reason that it is not prescribed for.
Recreational Drug Use
It is now legal to use marijuana in several states and many people believe it is safer to use than alcohol. Using marijuana becomes a risky behavior when you:
- Spend a great deal of time getting, using, or recovering from marijuana.
- Can’t stop using marijuana, when you want to.
- Give up activities you used to enjoy because of marijuana use.
Excessive spending turns into compulsive buying when it becomes an uncontrollable desire to shop. Generally a person who buys compulsively does so in response to negative emotions or feelings. Compulsive buying becomes a risky behavior when you:
- Buy things you can’t afford.
- Buy things to make you feel better.
- Feel anxious on days you don’t shop.
Sex is a completely natural and normal part of being an adult; and when practiced safely and with a respectful partner, it can have health benefits. For some people though, sex becomes an obsession or they practice unsafe sex. This is when sex can become risky business.
Join the Conversation
Help ERI raise awareness of how risky behaviors can lead to risky business. Let’s continue to talk about mental health issues, intervention, and prevention. Let’s break the silence.
For more information:
- More about the May Mental Health Month and the Risky Business Campaign from Mental Health America
- Mental Health by the Numbers by NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness
- How to Find Support by NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness
More about ERI
At ERI, we help adults living with mental health challenges in Dane County navigate the complex process of applying for and maintaining public benefits. We also provide employment counseling to assist individuals in planning and achieving their employment goals. Although treatment options may vary from person-to-person, ERI believes that work can be a critical step towards recovery. ERI strongly advocates for mental health wellness and support programs promoting early identification and recovery of mental health challenges. We see firsthand, how difficult living with a mental health illness can be for individuals and families. That is why ERI is helping to spread the word about this year’s theme, “Risky Business.”