Distinguishing between Mental and Behavioral Health

Updated on September 24, 2018

Not all medical terms are widely understood, bringing about a disconnect when a person tries to communicate with others. One of these terms is behavioral health where people assume that it is the same as mental health. While one contains aspects of the other, they are not mutually exclusive. That means that behavioral health encompasses mental health but also includes substance abuse and addiction.

Understanding behavioral health

This term has evolved. Initially, it spoke of the behavioral measures one can put in place to prevent diseases. Three decades later, it has changed to include what people can do to treat or manage illnesses as well. That means a Cosmetic Consultants New York worker going into a doctor’s office to complain about migraines could learn the issue is not being in chemical labs only; it could be from working long hours in a high-pressure industry. They could get described painkillers and provided with measures when in certain work environments but they will also be asked to consider therapy to cope with stress.

Simply put, behavioral therapy looks at the relationship between one’s behavior and their health. It looks at actions, such as excessive alcohol or food intake, or depression that leads one to have suicidal thoughts. It, therefore, seeks to change behaviors to treat and prevent the physical or mental problems. It also includes treatment from various persons; a physician, neurologist, dietician, and therapist, only to mention a few.


Not everyone entirely likes the term “behavioral health” is it can quickly be taken out of context. Without proper understanding, a person can assume that it seeks to change an individual’s habits to deal with the cause of the illness. It overlooks other external factors that lead a person to make the choices they do or to be in the mind frame they are in. The term equally appears vague as it does not depict the relationship between health and one’s behavior that promotes or diminishes it.

Another reason why mental health and behavioral health are not synonymous is that mental health is a severe illness. Terming it behavioral waters down the sometimes harsh effects of it and assuming that behavior is solely responsible for mental health problems.


Behavioral health services refer to the prevention or treatment of mental health, substance abuse, and addiction. Understanding the difference makes a person equipped to know what they need when going to their next doctor’s visit.

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