What is behavioral health? What is the difference between behavioral health and mental health?

While the terms mental health and behavioral health are often both used in the field of psychology, counseling, and social work, the terms do not necessarily mean the same. It can be helpful to understand the two terms more specifically when exploring options for support or treatment. Still, exploring the internet to find clear and consistent definitions and differentiations between the two terms and interventions associated with both can be challenging! This is likely a result of both fields of mental health and behavioral health continuing to evolve across the past few decades with better understanding of certain disorders, diagnoses, and best treatments for various emotional wellness challenges.

Defining Both Mental Health and Behavioral Health

Mental health focuses more specifically on an individual’s psychological state, cluing into biological factors such as brain chemistry or genetic make up of an individual. The term behavioral health came about within the last couple of decades and has evolved as a term in the psychological field. Behavioral health can be interpreted as more encompassing, including mental health, and extending onto the connection between that and behaviors, health, and wellness of an individual.

The Connection between Mental Health and Behavioral Health

It’s very common for challenges between mental health and behavioral health to co-occur. For instance, an individual might have a biological predisposition to developing depression related to their brain chemistry or genetic make up. This can then be further impacted by a specific family dynamic that occurs, potential substance use, or engagement in risky behaviors. Often when considering the most appropriate diagnosis and treatment recommendations for individuals, the interplay between mental health (both biological and psychological factors), developmental stage, cultural experience, as well as social and psychological factors are considered.

Treating Mental Health and Behavioral Health

Mental health treatment can focus more specifically on an individual’s biological factors, potentially including medical interventions (i.e. psychiatric medicine to assist symptom management). Behavioral health treatment includes not only preventing or intervening on challenges related to mental health, such as Anxiety or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, but also aims to prevent and intervene on more expansive areas of health, such as challenging behaviors related adjustment, trauma, substance use, or conflictual relationships with peers and/or family members.

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