What is Behavioral Health?

Behavioral health refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Behavioral health can also refer to challenges in someone’s overall health and wellness including mental illness and substance use. Behavioral health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Why is Mental Health Important for Overall Health?
Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health.  For example, depression increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk for mental illness.

How Common Are Mental Illnesses?
Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States. More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. 1 in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness. 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

What causes mental illness?
There is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as early adverse life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse (for example, child abuse, sexual assault, witnessing violence, etc.)
Experiences related to other ongoing (chronic) medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes
Biological factors or chemical imbalances in the brain
Use of alcohol or drugs. Having feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2016.

Strengthening Mental Health Promotionexternal icon. Fact sheet no. 220. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.