Behavioral Health: Peeling the Onion

Behavioral Health: Peeling the Onion

Behavioral Health: Peeling the Onion

It is an understatement to say, as humans, we are complex creatures. So many factors affect who we are. Genetics, upbringing, our environment, family dynamics, friendships, love and work relationships – and, yes, even our behaviors. They’re all thrown into the mix that creates a unique individual.

While we celebrate individuality, society also asks us to use a certain amount of self-control for the wellbeing of our communities. Still, one person’s normal can be another person’s problem, right? It’s all wrapped up in behavioral health.

What Is Behavioral Health?

Some people use “mental health” and “behavioral health” interchangeably. There is a difference, though. Behavioral health is the scientific study of emotions, behaviors and biology. It looks at all the pieces of the puzzle that play a role in a person’s physical, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing. It focuses on the way people feel about themselves – along with their ability to care for themselves and function in everyday life and society.

From time to time, we may need help with behaviors that can cause harm to our physical, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing. These behaviors can include the way we express our emotions, interact with others, handle money, or use food, drugs and alcohol.

A person with behavioral health issues may struggle with:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Addiction (drugs, alcohol, sex, food)
  • Relationships
  • Mood disorders
  • Learning disabilities
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
What Causes a Crisis?

There is no shortage of things going in our daily lives that have the potential to trigger a behavioral health issue. Here are a few of the hot-button categories:

Chronic or serious health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, migraine headaches or cancer can make it difficult to cope with everyday life.

Daily circumstances surrounding finances, employment or relationships can fuel stress and anxiety.  

Life events such as births, deaths, marriage, divorce, accidents or crime can disrupt comfortable routines and cause tensions.

Toxic environments, people and places can foster depression.

Know the Warning Signs

None of us are immune to difficulties. So, when they rear their ugly head, how do you know if it’s simply a rough patch or time to bring in the health pros? There are warning signs. Sometimes we recognize them ourselves. Other times, someone close to us may encourage us to get help. Either way, here are some behaviors that merit help:  

  • Constant sadness, worry, anxiety, panic or hopelessness
  • Avoiding friends, family and favorite activities
  • Low energy and inability to carry out everyday activities
  • Irritable and has difficulty interacting with others
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits
  • Rapid mood swings, unable to control emotions
  • Difficulty coping with a loss or change
Finding the Right Help

A good first step is toward health is simple: talk with your doctor. If you’ve been seeing your primary care provider for a long time, he or she may have insights into your health and circumstances that can point you to the right kind of help.

Depending on your issue, you may be referred to a behavioral health specialist. There are several types. They’re all educated and trained in behavioral health, but they provide different services to fit different needs.

  • Social Workers help diagnose issues and offer therapy. They also connect patients with support resources to help them overcome the issue.
  • Therapists offer talk therapy so patients can talk through their problems and identify ways to deal with them.
  • Psychologists also offer talk therapy, but they may use psychological testing along with therapy to look for answers.
  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who identify and treat physical issues along with mental ones. They may prescribe medications to complement therapy.

All of these care providers are dedicated to helping you cope with any behavioral health issue you may face. Don’t be shy about asking for help. It never a sign of weakness to do so.

As with any form of specialty care, check your health care plan to make sure the services are covered. Always choose a care provider who is in-network to get the most from your benefits.

Know someone who needs help now, but doesn’t have health care coverage? There are free resources that offer information and help. Direct them to:

Sources:  Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health, leaving site icon Alvernia University, 2022; Defining Behavioral Health, leaving site icon Array Behavioral Care, 2022; Help for Mental Illnesses, leaving site icon My Mental Health: Do I Need Help?. leaving site icon National Institute for Mental Health, 2022.

Originally published 4/22/2016; Revised 2020, 2022