• By Elizabeth Coots, Extension Agent

Family and Consumer Sciences

What is behavioral health? The terms behavioral health and mental health are often used to mean the same thing. However, do they really mean the same thing? In the 1970s and 1980s, the term behavioral health referred to behaviors that prevent illness or promote health. Think of those things you learned about healthy living. One example would be eating your vegetables before you have dessert. Later, the term behavioral health began to be used to refer to behaviors that help people manage chronic illnesses and conditions. An example would be lifestyle changes to control diabetes. More recently, the term behavioral health has incorporated mental health as well. Here are some ways to learn more about what behavioral health means:

• Behavioral health is a way of being inclusive. Behavioral health includes strategies to promote well-being. It includes ideas for preventing or intervening in mental health issues. Some common examples are depression or anxiety. It also includes ideas for preventing or intervening in substance abuse or other addictions.

• The term behavioral health is seen as less of a stigma than mental health. It is a more kind and gentle term that can help people be more likely to seek help.

• Behavior is a part of identity that can be changed. This means that behavioral health can be seen as a more hopeful concept. People who experience mental illness or addiction may believe these diseases are permanent parts of their lives. The term behavioral health helps people feel that these things can be changed.

• Behavioral health is often used to describe the connection between behaviors and health and well-being. This includes behaviors such as eating habits or exercising. These behaviors can impact physical or mental health. They can also include broad factors. For example, a person may have to live in an area with high pollution. Another example would be a person who has dealt with high levels of stress over a long period of time. Some of these behaviors are under their control. However, sometimes choices are limited by factors beyond their immediate control. An example would be pollution by a factory near your house. Another example would be obesity that is affected by your personal choices of what to eat. If you do not have access to a grocery store to buy fresh fruits or vegetables, you might eat more fast food. It might then be more difficult to control your weight.

Physical health and mental health issues often occur together. For example, people with diabetes or heart conditions may develop depression as well. It can be very helpful to receive treatment for both conditions through an integrated behavioral health and primary care setting. The ways you live your life are behaviors. Physical and mental health all interact with each other in complex ways. The goals of behavioral health interventions are similar to those of other primary care treatment. This includes helping people function so they can lead healthier and happier lives. It is helpful when you can receive both behavioral health and primary care treatment in one integrated setting. This can help people continue to live their lives. They can continue to work or attend school. They can engage with their families. They can participate in their communities. They can be happy.

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