Mental Health vs. Behavioral Health


Some use mental health and behavioral health interchangeably, but there are important differences between the two. Here’s how to know the difference between mental health and behavioral health.

The terms mental health and behavioral health are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same. It’s important to understand the differences between mental health and behavioral health in order to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes mental health as relating to a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It can be linked to the individual’s biology, psychological condition, and habits. In addition, mental health can affect how a person thinks, feels, or acts. In contrast, behavioral health has more to do with a person’s habits and how those habits impact their overall mental and physical health.

Mental health conditions

It is possible for certain mental health conditions to result from behavioral issues, but that’s not always the case. Some mental health disorders occur as a result of genetics or brain chemistry imbalances. Among the most common mental health conditions are:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia

Behavioral health conditions

While mental health disorders can occur sporadically through no fault or action on the part of the individual, many behavioral health conditions result from unhealthy behaviors that negatively affect a person’s physical and mental state. Some of the most common behavioral health conditions include:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Substance use disorder
  • Eating disorders (e.g. anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating)
  • Gambling disorder
  • Sex addiction

The link between mental health and behavioral health

It is not uncommon for behavioral health issues to develop as a result of a person trying to cope with an underlying mental health issue. Similarly, some behaviors can worsen the severity of a mental health condition. For someone with a mental health disorder, drinking or using drugs can intensify or worsen the symptoms of their condition.

Alicia Cowdrey DMG

“Shifting the conversation from mental or behavioral health to brain health can help decrease the stigma and discrimination that people sometimes associate with seeking treatment.”

Dr. Alicia Cowdrey, District Medical Group Physician at Valleywise Health

Treating mental and/or behavioral health conditions

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly one in five adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness; only half of those individuals receive treatment. Effectively treating a mental and/or behavioral health condition starts with an accurate diagnosis. Depending on a person’s condition, symptoms, and exhibited behaviors, treatment may include medication, counseling, or a combination of both. Treatment is individualized to each person’s condition and life circumstances.

“Just like how we don’t judge people for getting help for a cardiac condition, we shouldn’t judge or not talk about brain health conditions. These conditions have a biological and neurological basis that appears in thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. If we eliminate the stigma and provide easier access to brain health treatment, people can get help earlier and prevent longer-term effects of untreated disease.”

Don’t be afraid to get help for mental health or behavioral health services. Doctors at Valleywise Health can connect you with the right resources for your unique situation. Call 1-833-VLLYWSE (855-9973) to make an appointment today.

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