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Behavioral Health vs Mental Health

June 09, 2022

Written by Tom Gettelman, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer 

Oftentimes “mental health” and “behavioral health” are used to mean the same thing.  But is it accurate to do so?  The terms “mental health” and “behavioral health” have many similarities but also some relevant differences.  Importantly the primary difference lies within the names themselves.

Mental Health

You can think of mental health as being one aspect of overall behavioral health.  Mental health describes a person’s emotional, cognitive, social and psychological well-being.  People with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia experience clusters of symptoms that adversely impact their mental well-being.  For example, people struggling with depression typically feel sad, lonely, and hopeless.  These are common emotional aspects of their mental health.  They often don’t enjoy doing things they used to enjoy doing and may isolate from friends and family; social elements of their mental health.  And they tend to experience painful negative thoughts about themselves, other people, and/or their lives.  This reflects the cognitive aspects of their mental health.  Mental health treatment focuses on helping all of these aspects of the person’s mental health with the goal of teaching skills to decrease these painful symptoms and expressions of depression.

Behavioral Health

Behavioral health includes what people think of as “mental health” as described above, but behavioral health is broader.  Behavioral health focuses both on a person’s mental health symptoms but also on behaviors that impact a person’s social, mental, and physical well-being.  Behavioral health will therefore focus on things like substance use/abuse, unhealthy eating behaviors, unhealthy risk-taking behaviors, or behaviors that negatively impact a person’s social relationships or their ability to maintain desired employment or success in school.  There are often relationships between these types of behaviors and mental health symptoms.  For example, it is very common for someone experiencing depression or anxiety to self-medicate with alcohol or other mood-altering drugs.  Effective treatment should focus on both the behaviors that negatively impact a person’s life and the emotional, cognitive, and psychological symptoms that are present.

Treatment Approach


At HopeWay, we provide a comprehensive, multifaceted, approach to address behavioral health and mental health needs.  We use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and elements of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, two therapeutic models strongly grounded in science, to help address one’s mental health symptoms. 

Integrative Therapy

We also use a variety of evidence-based integrative therapies such as Recreational Therapy, Music Therapy, Art Therapy, Horticultural Therapy, Pet Therapy, yoga, and meditation to teach behaviors that can be used outside of treatment to further a client’s journey towards recovery. 

Wellness Clinic

Finally, because of the importance of focusing on all aspects of health, we also address primary medical concerns in our Wellness Clinic, and through the expertise of our registered dieticians and resources in our learning kitchen, we teach clients how healthy eating habits positively affect both mental and physical wellness.

It is not uncommon for clients with depression (mental health) to isolate (behavioral health), which then further exacerbates the depression; or clients who struggle with substance misuse (behavioral health) to feel increased anxiety and depression (mental health) after using drugs or alcohol. The relationship between behavioral health and mental health cannot be mistaken, and therefore a comprehensive approach to behavioral health and mental health is the most effective for clients to get better and to sustain recovery.


Tom Gettelman, PhD

Dr. Tom Gettelman, Chief Clinical Officer, has over 25 years of experience in residential, PHP, and IOP facilities for children, adolescents, teens, and adults. He has held positions such as Vice-President of the Mindy Ellen Levine Behavioral Center and Mecklenburg County’s representative on the North Carolina Commission for Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Developmental Disability. In addition to serving as HopeWay’s Chief Clinical Officer, Dr. Gettelman serves on the board of Davidson Lifeline, as well as the Governance Committee for the Teen Health Connection. Dr. Gettelman received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and his Doctorate degree in clinical psychology from the University of South Florida.


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Editor’s note: This blog post is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.