Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health: What’s the Difference?

mental health

When it comes to mental health, there are a lot of things to consider. The same is true of behavioral health. While they might sound like the same thing, they’re actually two types of health problems that can affect your everyday life, mind, and body. It’s easy to use these terms interchangeably. However, there is one subtle difference when it comes to behavioral and mental health.

Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health

Mental Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Essentially, mental health means that an individual can get through everyday stressors and remain unphased while being able to deal with the problems at hand. This doesn’t mean that we don’t all face bad days, though.

Mental health involves several factors like a person’s genetics, psychological condition, daily habits, and more.

Behavioral Health

While mental health encompasses habits, it also involves other factors like a person’s biology. On the other hand, behavioral health encompasses how habits impact both overall and physical well-being, and considers how these habits impact your everyday life. Essentially, behavioral health is a subset of mental health because not all mental health conditions are a result of behavior.

Consider your eating, drinking, and fitness habits, along with any other habits you do frequently. Overeating or undereating can be a behavioral health problem because it negatively impacts your well-being, affecting both your mind and body. Similarly, excessive alcohol use can have the same impact, even exacerbating any underlying mental and physical health concerns.

In the case of overeating, a behavioral health care provider will look at behaviors that contributed to a person’s obesity, primarily affecting their physical health. However, someone who is overeating might be doing so to help cope with anxiety, a mental health condition.

Mental Health and Behavioral Health Disorders
Mental health disorders involve genetics and other factors like behavior. Mental illnesses that are not directly related to behaviors are:

  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders

Behavioral health disorders result from habits and actions that negatively impact one’s physical or mental condition. These behaviors are things that people typically have a choice in rather than conditions they’re born with. While addictions may have a genetic component, they are typically considered behavioral health disorders. Examples of behavioral disorders include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Gambling
  • Sex addiction
  • Eating disorders

Connection Between Behavioral and Mental Health

While behavioral health is characterized by your habits, these habits are not the root cause of the problem. Behavioral health disorders typically coincide with mental illness. That means that someone suffering from an addiction likely has a mental health problem as well as a behavioral health condition. In many cases, a mental illness is likely what caused the behavioral health issue. To treat these conditions, it’s not as simple as modifying behavior. Individuals may also need psychiatric care and counseling to address the underlying problems.

At the same time, while many mental health-related conditions are based on biology, they can be impacted by behavior in positive and negative ways. For example, drug use can exacerbate mental health disorder symptoms like anxiety and depression, making them much worse. Luckily, when it comes to both behavioral and mental health, one can develop healthy coping mechanisms like meditation to improve overall wellness.

Diagnosis and Treatment

While someone with a behavioral health condition typically also has a mental health condition, someone with a mental health condition might not have a behavioral health condition. Whether you’re concerned about your own mental health or someone else’s, it’s important to obtain the right diagnosis through a psychiatric evaluation. If you don’t want to leave your home? Consider an online psychiatrist to help treat you from the comfort of home.

Inexperienced care providers may focus only on behavior modification without treating underlying psychiatric conditions and vise versa. An effective treatment plan will have a collaborative approach to consider all aspects of an individual’s mental, behavioral, and physical well-being.

Treatment for both behavioral health and mental health concerns can include counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication. When it comes to a dual diagnosis, collaborative care is critical.

Every individual’s needs are different, so it’s important to get personalized treatment to address his or her complex needs. This often includes treating behavioral and mental health illnesses simultaneously.

Why Are Behavioral and Mental Health Important?

Behavioral health is essential to our mental and physical health because, through our habits, we can be healthy or unhealthy. A person with a gambling addiction may find their mental health deteriorating because of their up and down winning and losing streaks, along with the obsession about when they’re going to be able to gamble again. Gambling addiction can impact someone’s entire life, causing them to lose their home, job, and more.

While this is a behavioral health problem, it’s likely that someone is using gambling as a coping mechanism for an underlying mental health condition like depression. However, not all people with depression develop behavioral health conditions, because they’ve found healthier coping mechanisms that help them manage their depression and not engage in destructive actions.

Mental health, just like behavioral health, has a significant impact on our quality of life. Someone who can cope with the regular stress of an average day will likely not engage in behaviors that can be destructive, like drug use or gambling. Behavioral health and mental health go hand in hand when it comes to overall wellness, so it’s essential to seek help when you need it.

Finding Help

If you or someone you know is dealing with a behavioral or mental health concern, search for a professional that can help you through it. You can choose to work with a mental health provider online or in a physical office, depending on your preferences. It’s important to remember that while there is no cure-all for these problems, a mental health professional can assist you in learning about your behavioral or mental health condition and help you start a path toward a better life.

About the Author

Matt Casadona has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, with a concentration in Marketing and a minor in Psychology. He is currently a contributing editor for 365 Business Tips. Matt is passionate about marketing and business strategy and enjoys the San Diego life, traveling and music.

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