What is behavioral health? A Definition
Behavioral health is the study of the emotions, behaviors, and biology relating to a person’s mental well-being, their functioning in everyday life and their concept of self. A person with behavioral health issues may be facing stress, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, problems in relationships, grief, addiction, ADHD or learning disabilities, or other psychological concerns.
Counselors, psychologists, therapists, life coaches, nurse practitioners or physicians can help deal with behavioral health concerns by prescribing treatments like medication, counseling, or therapy.
“Behavioral Health” Vs. “Mental Health”
“Behavioral health” term is preferred in usage to “mental health” because it encompasses not just the biological aspect of wellness, but also all other factors determining the wellness, such as substances and their abuse, habits, behavior, and other external forces. Behavioral health is a blanket term that includes mental health. Behavioral health looks at how behaviors impact both physical and mental health.
For instance, a behavioral health professional might look at behaviors that may have contributed to a person’s obesity. And, conversely, people who have mental health issues can benefit from behavioral health principles. An additional advantage of sticking to the term “behavioral health” is that behavior is something that can be changed, so “behavioral health” signals the hope that mental illness or addiction need not be a permanent part of one’s life. A psychiatrist diagnoses and treats both behavioral and mental health disorders.
Importance of Behavioral Health
As Wikipedia notes, many chronic diseases have a behavioral component, but the following illnesses can be significantly and directly modified by behavior, as opposed to using pharmacological treatment alone:
- Substance abuse: many studies demonstrate that medication is most effective when combined with behavioral intervention
- Obesity: structured lifestyle interventions are more effective and widely suitable than drugs or bariatric surgery
- Hypertension: deliberate attempts to reduce stress can also reduce high blood pressure
- Insomnia: cognitive and behavioral interventions are recommended as a first-line treatment for insomnia
In the US, nearly 66% of all deaths annually can be ascribed to chronic conditions. Around 80% of hospital admissions, 90% of prescriptions filled and 75% of physician visits are accounted for by patients with chronic conditions. Almost 60% of Americans, that is, nearly 190 million people, have at least one chronic condition, and around 10% have three or more. By 2050 it is expected that around 80 million Americans will have multiple chronic illnesses, more than double the number now, assuming that current trends continue.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 25% of adult Americans experience behavioral health disorder in any given year. Nearly 30% of adults with a medical disorder also have a mental health disorder, and nearly 70% of adults with behavioral health problems also have a medical condition.
Thus, there is a risk that those suffering from a chronic disease will also fall prey to some mental health disorder and vice versa. This puts an additional burden on healthcare expenditures. Studies have shown that it can be three times costlier to treat physical illness in those with an underlying behavioral health problem compared to treating the very same physical illness in those without a behavioral health problem.
Given this scenario, it is a matter of surprise and concern that behavioral health has been largely ignored and not factored in when it comes to physical health. Data points to the fact that mental or emotional health and chronic diseases are closely linked, and yet primary-care physicians have not paid attention to and addressed this link of causation of chronic diseases. It is high time we took steps to change that mindset so that everyone stands to benefit.
Types of Behavioral Health Problems
A variety of behavioral health disorders and addictions exist, such as the following:
- Eating disorders: Anorexia and bulimia nervosa – displaying destructive and abnormal eating and related behaviors.
- Work addiction: Everybody puts in an average of 8 hours a day working and is none the worse for it. But, the point is, anything in excess is unhealthy, and the same holds good when it comes to working. One may end up spending long hours at work, at the expense of relationships, emotional well-being, and health, due to perfectionism or overriding need for success, money, or achievement.
- Exercise addiction: Exercising is healthy, but carried beyond a point it can become problematic. For instance, some people indulge in exercise despite negative consequences, such as injury, excessive weight loss, neglecting other responsibilities.
- Shopping addiction: This behavioral health disorder can negatively impact your life. While shopping can be recreational and enjoyable, if it becomes compulsive and uncontrollable then it can have many undesirable effects. You may spend more than you can afford by charging your credit cards heavily, and you may use shopping as a means of relief from emotional distress or just for the rush that a new purchase gives you.
- Gaming addiction: To be considered an addiction it must be compulsive, one which you are finding difficult to control and spend a sizable portion of your waking time on it.
- Internet addiction: This has become widespread in recent years. This addiction is usually at the cost of personal hygiene, relationships, and career.
- Sex addiction: This is a compulsive indulgence in sexual behaviors that you are unable to control despite facing negative consequences, such as family or relationship problems, divorce, unplanned pregnancies, STDs, and financial problems.
- Porn addiction: Obsession or preoccupation with porn has now become almost an epidemic that derails one’s functioning in other areas of one’s life.
- Gambling disorder: This is a serious addiction because it can wipe out your lifetime savings, home, and other such valuable possessions.
Treatment for Behavioral Health Addictions
Some of the treatment options available for behavioral health addiction are:
- Inpatient treatment: This treatment is administered in a residential setting round the clock, for 1 to 3 months. This allows you to exclusively focus on recovery by not coming in coming in contact with the usual stressors and triggers in the outside world. This modality of treatment involves a combination of 12-step programs, support groups, individual and group counseling, and alternative or complementary therapies.
- Outpatient treatment: The treatment modalities here are similar to the ones in inpatient treatment, except that it happens on a part-time basis without you having to leave your home and join elsewhere. This option can be tried in those with less-severe addictions who may not want to interrupt their professional and personal duties, such as school, work, or family life.
- Peer support programs: Here you are assigned a mentor who has recovered previously from a somewhat similar addiction. This support can be of great help emotionally, socially, and psychologically by empowering you through the provision of support, strength, and other resources needed for recovery.
- 12-step programs: These are, as the name implies, 12-step programs, and are available with some modifications in each case for most addictions, such as Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, etc.
The different therapies available for trying in behavioral health addictions, and most of which are quite effective, are:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a very popular therapy as it takes care of both behavioral and mental health issues by bridging thinking and behavior. In this therapy, you are taught to become aware of the connections between thoughts, emotions, and behavior, so that you can get a handle on your emotional symptoms by changing your thought patterns and behavior.
- Motivational Interviewing: This goal-oriented therapy helps you tackle the ambivalence and uncertainty you have toward change. It guides you to be more aware of the negative consequences of your behavior and enables you to make healthier choices through the use of your own intrinsic motivation to do that.
- Reality therapy: This incredibly effective modality of treatment makes you appreciate how your behavior is determined by your choices. When you are made to confront the reality that your needs are not being served by your behaviors, you will be more willing to adapt and change by being open to alternative behaviors. This therapy ultimately tries to establish new patterns of strategies and behaviors to meet these five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, freedom, recreation, and power.
Finally, please note that you can turn to the following resources for more help when confronted with intractable behavioral health problems in yourself or a loved one:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also a valuable resource. If you’re concerned about a loved one’s mental state or personal safety, and unable to take him or her to the emergency room, you can talk to a skilled counselor by calling 1-800-273-TALK.
- The National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Campaign to Change Direction
- Crisis Text Line