The Difference Between Mental and Behavioral Health


If you’ve been researching mental health services, you may have come across the term “behavioral health.” The concept of behavioral health originated forty years ago, but over time, the meaning of the term has changed. Nowadays, people often think behavioral health is synonymous with mental health, but the truth is, there’s a subtle difference between them the two. Understanding that difference is the key to receiving the right kind of care for your condition.

Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health

Mental health, as defined by the World Health Organization, 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.” Your mental health encompasses a number of factors, such as your biology, your psychological condition, and your habits. Your behavioral health, on the other hand, examines how your habits impact your overall physical and mental wellbeing.

Behavioral and Mental Health Disorders

It can help to think of behavioral health as a subset of mental health, in that not all mental health disorders are a result of behavioral issues. Some of them are caused by brain chemistry or genetic inheritance. A short list of mental disorders that are not directly related to or caused by behaviors are:

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Schizophrenia

  • Depression

  • Generalized anxiety disorder

By contrast, behavioral health disorders result from maladaptive behaviors that negatively impact your physical or mental condition. Some examples of behavioral health disorders are:

  • Substance abuse

  • Gambling

  • Sex addiction

  • Eating disorders

The Link Between Behavioral Health and Mental Health

Even though behavioral health disorders are characterized by unhealthy habits, those habits are often not the root cause of the issue. Frequently, behavioral health disorders co-occur with mental illness. To effectively treat any of these conditions, it’s not enough to simply modify behaviors; you must also consider psychiatric care and/or psychological counseling to address the underlying problem.

Conversely, while many mental health conditions have a biological basis, they can still be severely impacted by your behaviors, in both positive and negative ways. Maladaptive behaviors – such as drinking, using drugs, or overeating – can exacerbate symptoms of a mental health disorder. On the flipside, developing effective coping mechanisms – such as exercising or meditating – can improve both your physical and mental state.

Obtaining the Right Diagnosis and Treatment

Whether you’re concerned about your mental health, your behavioral health, or both, it’s crucial to obtain the correct diagnosis for your condition. All too often, it can be easy for inexperienced care providers to focus on behavior modification while overlooking underlying psychiatric conditions, or to treat a mental illness with medication while ignoring the need to change bad habits. The most effective treatment plan is one that takes a collaborative approach, employing a team of experts to consider all aspects of a patient’s wellbeing. Treatment is often multi-faceted and can include medical interventions, cognitive behavioral therapy, group counseling, and more.

Collaborative care is especially important when it comes to a dual diagnosis – that is, a behavioral health disorder, such as substance abuse, that co-occurs with a mental health condition. Working together, a well-rounded team of doctors and therapists can ensure a patient is getting the best possible treatment to help them live their best life.

Optimize Your Mental and Behavioral Health at Alvarado Parkway Institute

Recovering from a behavioral disorder or mental illness requires hard work, commitment, and support. At Alvarado Parkway Institute, we can provide you with a stable, supportive environment and a caring, compassionate team of experts to help guide you through treatment. It’s never too late to live a healthy, balanced life. Call our 24-hour hotline at (619) 667-6125 to find out more about our treatment programs.