Why behavioral health matters

Managing an issue that touches all of us

If you’ve spent any time leafing through the pamphlets at the doctor’s office, you’ve probably come across the term “behavioral health” at one time or another. But as straightforward as the words may seem, how exactly do we define behavioral health? What distinguishes it from mental health? And how does it relate to everyday wellness?

What is behavioral health?

Studies show that there’s a strong correlation between our mental well-being and our physical health. The way you perceive the world, and the emotions that spring from that perception, can influence your physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.

Take depression, for example. If you’re experiencing a depressive episode, you may be less likely to invest in the things you enjoy, stay on a healthy sleep schedule, or maintain proper hygiene. Those things, in turn, could lead to physical ailments, sickness, and even stronger bouts of depression, affecting how you feel inside and out.

Behavioral health is the field of medicine that examines issues in overall wellness. More specifically, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (PDF, 321KB) defines it as “the promotion of mental health, resilience, and well-being; the treatment of mental and substance use disorders; and the support of those who experience and/or are in recovery from these conditions, along with their families and communities.”

What does a behavioral health issue look like?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, most people are unaware that behavioral health conditions affect a large number of Americans – as many as one in four.

Among the most common – and most visible – of those behavioral health conditions is addiction. Addiction is defined as the compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior, despite the negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community. You may even know through personal experience that it takes many forms, not all of which involve substances.

Types of addiction include:

  • Eating: A severe struggle with over-consumption that leads to physical health complications like heart disease and diabetes
  • Gambling: Habitual, compulsive wagering, despite the financial consequences and attempts to cut back or abstain altogether
  • Gaming: The compulsive use of video games, often to the detriment of professional work or relationships
  • Sex: An unwanted obsession with sexual thoughts and acts, often resulting in risky or illicit behavior
  • Shopping: A powerlessness against compulsive spending, often marked by neglecting other financial obligations
  • Social media: An uncontrollable urge to check social media feeds, often resulting in mood changes and withdrawal symptoms
  • Exercise: An inability to overcome the desire to exercise, often to the point of persistent physical harm

Diagnosing a behavioral health issue

So what are the signs of a friend or loved one in need? Start by looking for lifestyle shifts, emotional swings, or physical changes. Some common indicators might include:

  • New difficulties in home or work relationships as a result of a behavior
  • New illnesses or physical ailments caused by a behavior
  • Significant, lasting mood changes
  • An inability to stop engaging in certain behaviors despite the consequences

For behavioral health issues such as depression, anxiety, or phobias, the diagnosis may be more difficult to assess, especially without the assistance of a trained professional. In all instances, the best thing you can do for anyone suffering from a suspected behavioral health issue is encourage them to contact a qualified professional.

Blue Shield makes it easy to find a doctor in your area, and patients have a range of options when it comes to the treatment of behavioral health issues.

Finding the help needed

Self-care is a great place to start for minor behavioral health issues. Exercise, meditation, and volunteering are proven ways to help clear your mind and calm some anxieties, though, for many people, experts recommend some combination of counseling and/or medications. Of course, there is no single prescribed amount of counseling or medications; every situation is different, and requires close monitoring and adjustments administered by a professional.

Psychotherapy, the clinical term for discussing behavioral health issues with a professional, is designed to help patients identify unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and develop coping skills. Depending on the issue, a professional may suggest one type of psychotherapy over another.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on remedying distorted thinking or perceptions and building newer, healthier habits on the other side.
  • Exposure therapy helps patients overcome traumatic events through gradually confronting fears in a safe environment.
  • Group therapy involves two or more patients sharing their experiences and finding common ground to help heal.

With the help of a professional and the proper treatment, you can build a stronger understanding of behavioral health and work to address any issues you or your loved ones may be facing. Blue Shield offers several ways to access licensed therapists and other forms of counseling, the most immediate of which is Teladoc. Use it as your portal to access clinicians and treatment programs right over the internet, and have prescriptions sent directly to your local pharmacy or to your home.

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