Jun 27, 2024

Understanding the Difference Between Behavioral Health and Mental Health


Behavioral health and mental health are terms often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings. Understanding the differences between them can help people seek the right kind of help and support. This article will explore what mental health and behavioral health entail, their differences, and why both are important for overall well-being.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health refers to our emotional and psychological well-being. It includes how we think, feel, and behave in daily life. Mental health affects how we handle stress, relate to others, and make decisions.

Common Mental Health Issues

  • Depression: A mood disorder causing persistent sadness and loss of interest.
  • Anxiety Disorders: Conditions causing excessive fear or worry.
  • Bipolar Disorder: A disorder marked by extreme mood swings.
  • Schizophrenia: A severe mental disorder affecting thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Mental health professionals assess these conditions through clinical interviews, psychological tests, and personal histories. Treatment often involves therapy, counseling, and medications prescribed by psychiatrists or other mental health professionals.

What Is Behavioral Health?

Behavioral health is a broader term that includes mental health. It focuses on how behaviors impact our physical and mental well-being. Behavioral health involves understanding and changing behaviors that negatively affect health.

Common Behavioral Health Issues

  • Substance Abuse: The misuse of drugs or alcohol that leads to health problems.
  • Eating Disorders: Disorders like anorexia and bulimia affect eating behaviors.
  • Stress Management: Techniques to control stress levels and improve well-being.
  • Sleep Disorders: Problems related to sleeping, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.

Behavioral health professionals use various techniques to help individuals, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and other behavioral interventions. These methods focus on changing harmful behaviors and developing healthier habits.

Key Differences Between Behavioral Health and Mental Health


Mental health focuses specifically on psychological conditions and emotional well-being. Behavioral health includes mental health but also considers behaviors that affect overall health. For example, while depression is a mental health issue, substance abuse is a behavioral issue that can also impact mental health.

Treatment Approaches

Mental health treatment often involves therapy, counseling, and medications. Behavioral health treatment may include these approaches but also emphasizes changing harmful behaviors. For instance, someone with an eating disorder might receive therapy to address underlying emotional issues and behavioral interventions to develop healthier eating habits.

Focus Areas

Mental health professionals diagnose and treat mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Behavioral health professionals address a wider range of issues, including how behaviors like substance abuse or poor stress management affect health. They work on developing strategies to change these behaviors and improve overall well-being.

The Overlap Between Behavioral and Mental Health

There is a significant overlap between behavioral health and mental health. Many mental health conditions have behavioral components, and many behavioral health issues affect mental health. For example, substance abuse often co-occurs with mental health disorders like depression or anxiety. Effective treatment must address both aspects to improve overall health.

Importance of an Integrated Approach

Addressing both mental and behavioral issues is important for comprehensive care. An integrated approach ensures that all aspects of a person’s well-being are considered. This can lead to better health outcomes and improved quality of life.

Benefits of Integrated Care

  • Comprehensive Treatment: Considering both mental and behavioral health leads to more effective treatment.
  • Improved Outcomes: Addressing all factors that impact health can lead to better overall health and well-being.

Integrated Treatment Models

Integrated treatment models involve collaboration among various health professionals. For example, a team might include a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a behavioral therapist. They work together to provide holistic care, addressing both mental health conditions and related behaviors.

Challenges in Distinguishing and Treating Both

There are challenges in distinguishing and treating both mental and behavioral issues. Stigma and misconceptions often prevent people from seeking help. Mental health stigma can make people reluctant to talk about their feelings or seek treatment. Behavioral health misconceptions can lead to underestimating the impact of behaviors on health.

Overcoming Barriers

To overcome these barriers, it is important to raise awareness about the importance of mental and behavioral health. Encouraging open conversations and providing education can help reduce stigma. Additionally, promoting integrated care models can ensure that individuals receive comprehensive support.

Consider the case of someone struggling with both depression and alcohol abuse. An integrated treatment approach might involve therapy to address depression and behavioral interventions to help with alcohol use.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the difference between behavioral health and mental health is essential for recognizing and addressing the full range of factors that affect well-being. Both mental health and behavioral health play crucial roles in our overall well-being. By considering both, we can develop more effective strategies for improving our lives and the lives of those around us. Raising awareness and promoting integrated care can help ensure that everyone has access to the support they need.

At Nextus, we specialize in working with behavioral health programs. That specialization helps us give you world-class service and support. This lowers your administrative burden and lets you focus on helping those in need. Set up a free consultation with our team today!