behavioral therapy

Behavioral health and mental health are often used interchangeably. But they do not mean the same thing. While they both revolve around the mind and its ability to function normally, they are different in definition and types.

Mental health deals with an individual’s ability to handle significant life stressors, work productively, and function in society. On the other hand, behavioral health revolves around the impact one’s habits have on physical and mental health.

This article delves into the significant differences between the two. By knowing what sets them apart, you will better understand your psychology and its role in your life.

Understanding Behavioral Health

Most people are familiar with mental health issues, as it is a common social topic backed by several campaigns to raise awareness. However, very few people know and understand behavioral health. Interestingly, the behavioral health concept has been around for over 40 decades.

Over time, the term’s meaning has changed, making more people mistake it for mental health. So, what does behavioral health mean?

behavioral therapy

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Behavioral health deals with how your daily mental habits affect your overall well-being, biological emotions, and behavior. Everything from what you eat to how you stay fit impacts your mental and physical health.

This is why behavioral health manifests in several ways. Also, several factors affect this condition, namely:

  • Trauma
  • Medication
  • Chronic health issues
  • Relationships
  • Diet
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Exercise habits

Behavioral patterns are crucial in assessments conducted by healthcare professionals. For instance, a behavioral health therapist treating an anorexic person will first look at the behaviors that triggered their weight loss. The identification helps in developing treatment methods that address the core issues.

Examples of Behavioral Health Disorders

The following are examples of behavioral health issues:

Substance Abuse/Addiction

substance abuse

Data shows that about 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, but only 10% get treatment. Addiction is a severe disease that sometimes has fatal consequences. Unfortunately, people addicted to drugs or alcohol often fail to acknowledge their addiction even when it affects their relationships and causes health problems.

Common symptoms of this behavioral health disorder include:

  • Using the additive substance more than once daily
  • Spending money on the addictive substance even when unable to afford it
  • Driving under the influence
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you fail to consume the substance or after quitting

Addiction also affects one’s physical health and cognitive ability. If you are struggling with substance abuse/addiction, you will experience a lack of energy or a weight change.


Gambling in moderation is socially acceptable behavior, as evidenced by the casinos in Las Vegas. However, the story is different when dealing with gambling addiction. Approximately 1% of the adult population in the U.S. has a gambling problem.

People with a gambling addiction feel an uncontrollable urge to buy lottery tickets, play slot machines at casinos, bet on sports, etc. The severity of the behavior varies, but if you have this condition, you will keep gambling despite financial, social, and legal consequences.

If you have a gambling problem, you will exhibit one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Obsession with any gambling type
  • Taking large and insensible risks when gambling
  • Skipping work or other commitments to gamble
  • Stealing money and selling possessions
  • Gambling to feel better about life

Sex Addiction

Sex addiction was excluded in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This is because there remains controversy on the diagnosis of sex addiction as a mental health problem. But it qualifies as a behavioral health condition.

Sex addiction is a compulsive need to perform sexual acts to achieve the type of feeling or emotion a person with a substance addiction gets from drugs or alcohol. It negatively impacts a person’s mental and physical health, including relationships, life quality, and safety.

Common symptoms include:

  • Chronic, obsessive sexual thoughts and fantasies
  • Feelings of remorse or guilt after sex
  • Lying to cover sexual behaviors
  • Compulsive intercourse with multiple partners
  • Inability to control or stop sexual behaviors

Eating Disorder

Eating disorders qualify as behavioral and mental health conditions. Statistics show that it affects at least 9% of the population worldwide. Also, 9% of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.

This condition causes severe health problems and, in extreme cases,  death. Common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, binge eating, and avoidant and restrictive intake disorders. Others are night-eating syndrome and purging disorder.

Understanding Mental Health

Mental health deals with one’s ability to relate with others, their environment, and develop skills in managing stressful behaviors. It revolves around social, psychological, and emotional health. As a result, it plays a crucial role in your overall well-being.

This is why there are several conversations on ways to manage one’s mental health effectively. Usually, this involves knowing how to manage personal relationships, deal with stressors, and embrace positivity.

So, no matter your age or stage in life, ensure you take active steps to protect your mental health. Failure to do this has long-lasting consequences that affect different areas of your life. You can, do the following to maintain your mental health:

  • Getting therapy and counseling
  • Following a healthy fitness routine
  • Staying in contact with friends and loved ones
  • Eating gut healthy meals
  • Dealing with relationship problems in a healthy and productive way

Some mental health disorders are moderately linked to behaviors like:

However, there are mental health problems that are strongly connected with behavior. These include:

Personality Disorders

A person with this ailment deals with thinking patterns and behaviors that stray from the norm and cause problems with their day-to-day functioning. Some of the common personality disorders are:

Symptoms vary from one to the next, and medical professionals classify them in different clusters.

Psychotic Disorders

People with this disease deal with abnormal thoughts and perceptions about other people. One common psychotic ailment is delusional disorder. These often result in delusions and hallucinations, and the person affected loses touch with reality.

This explains why people dealing with psychotic disorders see and hear unreal things. Early warning signs of these disorders include:

  • Feeling suspicious when with other people
  • Trouble differentiating between fantasy and reality
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

The Link Between Behavioral Health and Mental Health

Unhealthy habits tend to characterize most behavioral health disorders. But, since behavioral health problems usually co-occur with mental illness, it makes it hard to draw a line between the two.

For instance, anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder are two conditions commonly diagnosed as a behavioral health disorder and a mental health illness. This is because the two share a common cause: trauma.

Also, constantly engaging in harmful behaviors like using drugs and alcohol might result in behavioral disorders and mental health conditions. These similar triggers make it harder to diagnose the two accurately. As a result, diagnosis is primarily subjective and conducted on a person-to-person basis.

Therefore, to effectively develop a treatment plan for behavioral health and mental health disorders, the medical practitioner must be able to draw a line between the two. Usually, they do this by asking specific questions related to your symptoms.

The Importance of Getting Treatment

At present, the gold standard for treatment plans for behavioral health and mental health problems is the collaborative approach.

Collaborative care focuses on improving the overall quality of care patients receive by ensuring that healthcare professionals work together to meet their physical and mental health needs. This treatment approach involves employing a team of experts to consider all the aspects of a patient’s wellbeing.

The treatment is multi-faceted and includes medical interventions, cognitive behavioral therapy, group counseling, etc. Collaborative care is particularly important when dealing with dual diagnoses. For example, where a person is experiencing mental health problems and has a substance use addiction.

So, if you are dealing with both disorders, yourself, together with a team of doctors and therapists using collaborative approach will endeavor to find the best possible treatment for you. This way, you get the help you need to live your best life. Ensure the healthcare provider you choose is compassionate with a stable and supportive environment.


Remember, regardless of how unwell you may feel now, recovery is probable and there are treatments that help you get better. But you are not alone. You can choose to surround yourself with a positive support system and engage in collaborative care. With commitment, discipline, and dedication you will succeed.

Want to know more about mental health, wellbeing, and resilience? Visit our extensive resource page to learn more.

Author: Peter Diaz

Peter Diaz is the CEO of Workplace Mental Health Institute. He’s an author and accredited mental health social worker with senior management experience. Having recovered from his own experience of bipolar depression, Peter is passionate about assisting organizations to address workplace mental health issues in a compassionate yet results-focussed way. He’s also a Dad, Husband, Trekkie and Thinker.

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