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MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS: Is it mental health or behavioral health?

Herald Democrat - 3/12/2020

Most of us are quite aware that the world of healthcare has gotten very complex. It can be a challenge at times to figure out a variety of our insurance plans work, what services are offered at urgent care versus the emergency department, what kind of specialist we many need to see ...and the list of questions goes on. As we discuss topics ongoing in this column, have you ever wondered what the difference may be between Mental Health and Behavioral Health? You may have thought they mean the same thing, as they are frequently used interchangeably. The fact is, there are some important distinctions between the two terms.

The federal government site specifically defines Mental Health as our emotional, psychological, and social well-being which effects how we think, feel and act. Our mental health impacts the decisions we make, how we interact with others and how we cope with stress and change. Perhaps more eloquently, the World Health Organization describes mental health as "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."

Behavioral health, by contrast, is more of a blanket term that includes mental health, i.e. mental health is a subset, if you will, of behavioral health. Behavioral health looks at how behaviors impact our physical and our mental health. However, not all mental health disorders are directly related to or caused solely by behaviors. As a healthcare discipline, behavioral health refers to mental health, psychiatric, marriage and family therapy, counseling and addictions treatment, and it includes services provided by licensed counselors, therapists, social workers, addictions specialists, psychiatrists, neurologists and physicians. It encompasses a continuum of prevention, education, intervention treatment and recovery support services.

The API Behavioral Health System in LaMesa California makes the important distinctions that although 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.

Mental Health Matters would like to hear from you! We want to be an interactive and useful service to our local community on behavioral health topics. Let us know what you think about the information you find here in this column and let us know what topics you would like to learn more about. Email us at:

Bill Mory is a Texoma-based licensed therapist in private practice who is a strong community-building advocate, active member of the local behavioral health network and a provider of workplace training on a variety of topics. Learn more at The views and opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.


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