Understanding behavioral health

It’s common to hear the terms mental health and behavioral health interchanged but there is a subtle yet important distinction between the two. Behavioral health refers to how your habits and behaviors may affect not only your mental health but your physical health, as well.  

If you’re struggling with your behavioral health you may be dealing with stress, anxiety, mood disorders or other psychological issues that contribute to your mental wellness. Behavioral health disorders may also include things like substance abuse, eating disorders or gambling.

Many people who have these struggles may find it difficult to get the help they need. But besides your mental well-being, seeking treatment is important because your mental state may impact your physical health. Being able to reduce your body's stress responses, for example, may help you a live longer and healthier life.

A young woman sits on her bed looking out the window

Measuring mental health

What does it mean to be in “good” mental health? Checking in with your emotional well-being and your overall life enjoyment every day may be a good first step. Think about the following questions:

  • Is it challenging to cope with the normal stresses of life?
  • Do you have trouble bouncing back and adapt to unexpected news?
  • Is it hard to do things like go to work or school, or form relationships?

If any of these are true, you may need to focus on improving your behavioral health.

Reading the signs of behavioral health

There are a number of factors that may affect your behavioral health and it isn’t necessarily limited to a single source. This might include your genetics, life experiences or your family’s history of mental health issues. These factors can show up in a number of ways, including changes in your eating or sleeping patterns, withdrawing from social activities, having low energy or experiencing feelings of hopelessness. If you’re unable to get out of bed in the morning or complete daily life tasks, it may be a sign that you are experiencing symptoms.

How to find the right treatment for you

It’s important to remember, you’re not alone in this process. There are a number of methods and professionals available to help you. Sometimes it just takes a first step. Consider the following tips to help you get started:

Self-assess: Consider any external circumstances that might be affecting your mental health — such as a loss of a job or the death of a loved one. In these cases, the stressors and barriers may fade when the circumstances change. On the other hand, a mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression, can be present even when external factors change or when there are no visible stressors. Mental illness is an ailment — just like a physical condition — and it can be treated.

Gather information: Talk to your doctor, friends or other trusted individuals about resources in your area. An initial appointment might also be helpful to assess what you’re thinking and feeling, and how that might be creating barriers to a healthy life.

Practice self-care: Remember that whatever your current mental health, you can benefit from self-care. Some of the ways to maintain and/or improve your mental health might include connecting with others, being physically active, eating healthy and getting proper rest. Developing strategies for dealing with life’s stressors, staying positive and asking for help when needed are also healthy traits.

If you do need help, know that there are a number of different treatments, ranging from psychotherapy and group therapy to support groups or expressive therapy through art. Recreational therapy, meditation and mindfulness practices are also options, as is medication.

For more information about behavioral health care, check out the following websites:
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment and www.nimh.nih.gov. You can also visit newsroom.uhc.com/mental-health.