Subtle Differences: Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health

By March 2, 2020 No Comments
Upper Valley

If you have been looking around the internet, you may have seen the words ‘behavioral health’ pop up around discussions of mental health. The idea of behavioral health has been gaining a lot of traction lately. For one, it lacks the stigma that often comes with talking about mental health. Even though our society has been becoming more accepting of mental health issues, replacing ‘mental’ with ‘behavioral’ health makes it easier for people to be more forthcoming.

A common misconception is that behavioral health is synonymous with mental health; however, there are some very important differences between the two.

  1. Behavioral health is often used as a blanket term, it is expansive and lies in the intersection between physical and mental health. It is defined as a study of “emotions, behaviors, and biology relating to a person’s mental well-being, their ability to function in everyday life and their concept of self”. The Behavioral Health Consultant (BHC) model is more integrated, less clinical and focuses on the overall wellness of an individual. BHCs often provide treatment services for a wide range of mental health, psychosocial, motivation, and medical concerns”. After 2010, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of organizations offering behavioral health services. There are continuous efforts on part of the US government to integrate the behavioral health and medical care systems to make treatments more effective and “reduce emergency room admissions and readmissions”. Therefore, behavioral health refers to much more than mental health.
  2. Researchers have identified that behavioral health and mental health share a two-way relationship – the two often co-occur. However, that does not mean that all mental health disorders are explicitly related to behavioral health. Many people inherit psychological disorders like schizophrenia, ADHD, etc. Many people undergo bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and postpartum depression due to hormonal imbalances in their bodies. But at the same time, many people engage in maladaptive behaviors like substance abuse, gambling, sex addiction and eating disorders which can exacerbate mental health disorders like depression, GAD, body dysmorphic disorder, etc. Therefore, we must be aware of the nuanced relationship between behavioral health and mental health so that we don’t get confused between the two.


  1. It is common for people to think that behavioral health issues are just bad habits that people have developed. It implies that an individual can change their conditions i.e. it places the onus of responsibility on the individual, making their condition sound less like a biologically/psychologically rooted issue. If you think this way, then we have a bit of a problem since that is not what behavioral health stands for.

    The BHC model was designed to be empowering because it makes you think that our behaviors can be transformed. Such an understanding allows one to think that their identity is fluid. Your experience of having maladaptive behaviors is temporal – who you are now is not who you will always be. This is precisely why the BHC model has been very successful because it allows patients to get treatment in less stigmatizing environments.

These are a few of the subtle differences between behavioral health and mental health that you should always remember.