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What is the difference between mental health and behavioral health?

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

What is Mental Health?

Mental health disorders is a medical condition that can include the following diagnosis; Anxiety, ADHD, Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, PTSD, and Schizophrenia to name a few. Mental Health Disorders are considered to be a disorder that involves health conditions that involve changes in emotions, thinking or behavior. Mental illnesses tend to interfere with the ability to engage socially or professionally. It tends to involve our communication skills, thinking patterns, behaviors, and emotional state. When these areas within our lives are affected it typically causes concerns in all areas of our lives especially with how we engage with friends and family but also ourselves. It's important to note that mental illness itself can take multiple forms; it can be severe or mild in the intensity of the disorder.

What are the contributions to mental illness

Mental Illness can change over time, it depends on a lot of factors primarily what is taking place around you and how that affects you internally. Look at it from the perspective of if you are overworked or alone with your thoughts, that can play a role on how you handle situations that come your way. It can be considered “burn out” which can increase your inability to cope or handle the situations taking place in that moment.

There are so many other factors that can contribute to mental illness develop this can include past trauma or abuse,genetics, the use of drugs, isolation, or a life changing event/condition like cancer or a terminal illness.

Who can be diagnosed with Mental Illness?

Mental Illness can also affect anyone regardless of your age, gender, geography, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, background or other aspect of cultural identity. While mental illness can occur at any age, three-fourths of all mental illness begins by age 24. According to the CDC, “Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States.” The CDC provides the following statistics;

  • More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.

  • 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.4

  • 1 in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.

  • 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

Treatment for Mental Health

Treatment for mental health can vary depending on the diagnosis you have presently. This can include primarily therapy. Therapy for mental health typically involves focusing on exploring further your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and seeks to improve an individual’s well-being. Psychotherapy paired with medication is the most effective way to promote recovery. Examples include: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, etc. Therapy can also include art therapy and other holistic approaches as well such as reiki or guided imagery.

Treatment can also include medications, which should be evaluated with a medical professional as medications can work for some but not for everyone and could also take some time to adjust to the medications prescribed as it depends on the person. It is important that you really communicate with your medical professional to identify any side effects that you may be experiencing such as fatigue, loss of appetite, or increased anxiety.

Support groups and Peer Support. Having the ability to engage with others who have similar experiences and can offer emotional and physical support to you can be very beneficial for you during this time.

What is Behavioral Health?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Behavioral Health is classified as “A state of mental/emotional being and/or choices and actions that affect wellness.” In other words it describes the connection between behaviors and the health and well-being of the individual. This would include how behaviors like eating habits, drinking, or exercising can directly impact your physical or mental health.

Good behavioral health means engaging in behaviors that help you achieve an ideal mental and physical balance. Therefore typically it is recommended that the individual would focus on and attempt to engage in regular exercising, eating a healthy diet, and taking necessary steps to manage an existing disease or injury.

Common conditions that fall into the behavioral health category include substance abuse, gambling addiction, eating disorders, and self harm. Similar to Mental health, Behavioral Health conditions can affect anyone regardless of age, sex, or race. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-quarter of adults in the U.S. experience some type of behavioral health disorder in a given year. Behavioral health can be directly affected by environmental pressures as well as the feelings one has about themselves; low self esteem, low self worth, or just feeling alone with no one to turn to for help. This increases the likelihood of isolating contributing to the depressed feelings that can play a contributing role into eating disorders and self harm acts.

Treatment for Behavioral Health

Like Mental Health, Behavioral health is primarily treated through therapy approaches. The therapy process typically involves the individual’s ability to learn how to manage the behaviors associated with mental illness and help individuals to challenge themselves to make changes to their behaviors for the better, reinforcing positive behaviors and finding ways to overcome negative behaviors.

Differences between Behavioral Health and Mental Health

When distinguishing between behavioral health and mental health, behavioral health looks at how behaviors impact someone’s health — physical and mental. Some behavioral health topics and issues do not fall into the category of mental health. Mental health, in comparison, is included in behavioral health. Mental health focuses on the whole picture in a way where the individual’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are taken into consideration. Therefore it is important to identify how behaviors can influence and affect your mental health.

Both mental health and behavioral health can be treated by therapy and is strongly suggested for you to reach out to a medical professional if you are experiencing any symptoms or concerns mentioned here. The therapy can range from inpatient to outpatient but both provide the tools and support that an individual is seeking for at that time. It starts with understanding your needs and taking the step forward to ask for help.


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