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Mental Health Benefits vs. Behavioral Health Benefits

Often used interchangeably, mental health and behavioral health are different, and so are the benefits associated with each. Learn more.

The terms mental health and behavioral health are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings that set them apart. Behavioral health describes the connections between behaviors and physical and mental well-being, while mental health is a person's emotional, psychological, and social well-being. 

During the early exploration of behavioral health in the 1970s and 1980s, the term was used almost exclusively to refer to behaviors that prevent illness or promote health. Later, the term began to include behaviors that help people manage the disease, and recently, behavioral health expanded to include mental health. While the term mental health didn't appear in the medical field until 1950, the connection between mental hygiene and overall health was cited as early as 1843. 

Behavioral health and mental health are closely linked because each one can affect the other. However, mental health care and behavioral health care require different approaches. For employers, understanding the differences between these similar terms is an important part of considering the difference between providing employees with mental health benefits vs. behavioral health benefits.

What Is the Difference Between Mental Health and Behavioral Health?

Mental and behavioral health are interconnected. Both have a distinct effect on physical health and are likely to impact each other. Even a fleeting mental state can drastically affect behavior. 

For example, consider the differences in your behavior when you're happy compared to when you're sad. Still, behavioral health and mental health have distinct differences. 

Conversely, your behavior, thoughts, and actions can also affect your mental health. Consider how substance use or high-stress situations can impact existing mental distress.

Behavioral health describes the way your behaviors affect your overall well-being. As such, the term is typically inclusive of mental and physical health. Yet, behavioral health care often focuses on short-term solutions and fails to address all the complexities of overall mental health.

Mental health describes an individual's emotional, psychological, and social well-being. This can include behavioral health that affects your mental well-being. 

However, it does not address behavioral health strictly related to physical health. Furthermore, some of the most common mental health concerns (including depression and anxiety) are often unrelated to behavior.

How Mental Health and Behavioral Health Impact Physical Health

Mental health plays an important role in physical health. For example, untreated mental health concerns connect to various physical health conditions, including high blood pressure, digestive issues, asthma, and even heart conditions. 

Physical health also depends heavily on behavioral health. Consider how exercise and a healthy diet can improve your physical health and help you avoid dangerous health conditions. Practicing good behavioral health through diet, exercise, and mindfulness is especially important in managing an existing disease.

While behavioral and mental health both contribute to physical health, the way they connect is different. Maintaining good mental health can help improve behavioral health to correct poor physical health. 

Mental Health vs. Behavioral Health Challenges

Failure to practice habits that help you maintain good mental and behavioral health can result in various challenges. While behavioral and mental health concerns can derive from internal and external factors, they manifest differently. 

Mental Health

Mental health concerns affect daily behaviors and can harm work performance. These are some of the mental health concerns most commonly experienced by adults:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety 
  • Burnout

Behavioral Health

Symptoms of behavioral health concerns typically manifest in behaviors that impact an individual's well-being. These challenges can affect mental health and impact work performance in different ways. These are some of the most common behavioral health concerns experienced by adults:

  • Substance use
  • Gambling addiction
  • Disordered eating

When you consider the difference between mental health and behavioral health concerns, it's clear how the benefits for each vary considerably. As such, employers need to think intentionally about the benefits they provide for employees.

What Can Employees Expect With Behavioral Health Benefits?

Behavioral health services are centered around helping individuals manage behaviors that affect their well-being. This is typically accomplished through one-on-one counseling sessions. 

Professionals involved with a behavioral health program may include psychologists, social workers, and general physicians. Services are often centered around talk therapy. 

Such sessions may help people process and resolve issues through verbal communication. They also usually include mapping out a plan to overcome negative behaviors. One-on-one counseling sessions are appealing in some situations because they provide a safe space to discuss personal issues and physical conditions. 

In some cases, behavioral health care can be useful in recognizing and diagnosing mental health concerns. When a physician is involved in the treatment plan, medications may be prescribed to ease symptoms and help individuals overcome behavioral health concerns. 

Traditional employee assistance programs (EAPs) are typically associated with behavioral health benefits. While they work to provide a safe space for short-term counseling, these types of benefits are often limited in scope. 

They fail to provide individuals with multiple modalities of care. As a result, many EAPs have low adoption rates among employees.

What Do Mental Health Benefits Cover?

Quality mental health benefits offer a multifaceted approach to improving overall well-being with multiple options that prioritize maintaining good mental health. While these benefits include options for one-on-one therapy with licensed professionals, they also offer various services that help individuals address issues that could affect their mental health. 

Mental health benefits include one-to-one therapy like behavioral health programs. They also include the following.

Wellness Benefits

Emotional well-being, movement, and mindfulness programs can be combined or used individually for a personalized user experience. Benefits may include fitness programs or gym memberships and self-guided meditation through apps.

Coaching

While one-on-one talk therapy is traditionally used to address immediate issues with short-term counseling, there are other options for prioritizing mental well-being for the long term. Coaching sessions can be used as a personal roadmap to build resilience around stress and burnout to prioritize mental health. Specialized coaching sessions can address career development, financial well-being, relationships, and healthy habits.

Group Programs

Provider-led group sessions can provide a valuable entry point into mental health care. Group sessions help diminish workplace mental health stigma to improve employee adoption rates. 

Text-Based Apps

User-friendly digital programs can break down barriers to care and allow employees to access services easily. These may include on-site counseling or supervisory services to address immediate issues.

Virtual Mental Health 

Self-serve digital resources are available on demand and can include options like meditations and digital courses. These services allow employees to find the assistance they need when they need them.

Personal, Financial, and Social Benefits

External factors often affect the stress levels of employees in the workplace. Benefits that address external stressors like child care and financial management can help decrease stress and improve mental health. Furthermore, the addition of mental health benefits that extend to dependents can provide vital assistance for employees. 

The future of mental health must go beyond tackling challenges and provide various options to help employees maintain good mental health. With a multifaceted approach to care, mental health care can work to prioritize overall well-being, including behavioral health. 

79% of employees believe that with the routine prioritization of mental health, they can successfully avoid severe mental health conditions or clinical-level care. However, finding mental health benefits that meet the needs of your employees can be challenging. Contact the experts at Modern Health to learn more about how you can support your employees' mental health and experience higher ROIs than traditional EAPs.

Sources:

1. https://online.alvernia.edu/program-resources/behavioral-health-vs-mental-health/ (Intro)

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2408392/ (intro)