As we set forth in this new decade, most of us are thinking about happiness and how we plan to achieve it moving forward. But what many of us forget is how inextricably linked our happiness is to mental health. Our mental health impacts every aspect of our lives, from our relationships with others to our sense of purpose and fulfillment.

If optimizing your mental health is a priority for the New Year, it may be helpful to learn exactly what mental health is and how it differs from behavioral health.


What is mental health? 

Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological, and social wellness. It can be helpful to think of it as the biological and psychological components of our wellbeing. When a person is in optimal mental health, they can maintain meaningful relationships with others, contribute at home and in their communities, make positive choices that support their wellness, and cope with life’s challenges. 

Because mental health affects all aspects of our lives, problems with mental health can, too. A person struggling with mental health problems may experience symptoms such as: mood swings, trouble sleeping or coping with stress, feelings of hopelessness, or difficulty getting along with others, among other symptoms. 

Everyone experiences mental health issues at some time in their lives, either due to traumatic experiences, grief, or times of high stress. But sometimes the symptoms are the result of a mental health disorder caused either by brain chemistry or genetics. Examples of mental health disorders include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder 


These disorders are not directly related to or caused by behaviors. 


What is behavioral health?

Behavioral health is a broader term that refers to the connection between behaviors and wellbeing. It is the study of emotions, biology, habits, and behaviors, and how they impact your overall health. Many behavioral health problems are, technically, mental health problems, but unlike those listed above, they are directly related to behaviors. Examples of behavioral health disorders include: 

  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Gambling addiction
  • Sex addiction 
  • Attention deficit disorder


Behavioral health encompasses mental health, and the two are often inextricably linked. Untreated or underlying mental disorders can lead to behavioral health problems. For example, a person with untreated anxiety may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms. Similarly, some behavioral health disorders can lead to or worsen symptoms of mental disorders. For example, a mentally stable person who develops a substance abuse problem may trigger symptoms of depression if they are genetically predisposed to it. 


When a person has co-occurring behavioral and mental health issues, it’s important to seek professional treatment that addresses both. Treating one without treating the other will not lead to lasting recovery. 


Behavioral health treatment in San Diego 


When it comes to optimizing mental health, most of us could use a little help now and again. But for those with behavioral or mental health disorders (or both), treatment is key for managing symptoms and maximizing quality of life. In order to get the right treatment, however, the right diagnosis is crucial. At Pacific Health Systems, our providers are highly skilled and experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of mental and behavioral health disorders in San Diego. We conduct thorough assessments and create personalized care plans designed to help optimize the mental health and wellbeing of each individual. For more information on our services, give us a call at 619-267-9257 today.