Behavioral Health

Denise Torres and Steve Estrine

in Social Work

ISBN: 9780195389678
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Behavioral Health

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As with mental health (see Oxford Bibliographies article on Mental Health), there is no one definition of behavioral health. Instead there are a number of competing definitions. Frequently, the term is used synonymously with “mental illness,” or, in a more expanded sense, as encompassing mental and substance use disorders and their respective service systems. This usage contrasts with the more specific name for an interdisciplinary approach to the prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and support services for individuals across the continuum of health problems. In the latter, behavioral health refers to a state of physical, mental, and emotional well-being affected by individual choices and actions and the ways in which these are exercised. The term highlights the bidirectional nature of physical and mental health in individuals and the interaction between persons and their sociocultural environments. In practice, however, the term continues to evolve in response to philosophical and epistemological debates, emerging knowledge and research findings, and historical, cultural, political, and practice contexts. Given the variability in terms, this article will first clarify definitions of behavioral health. Behavioral health will be used specifically to refer to the more inclusive concept of wellness and well-being with behavioral health care capturing service delivery approaches that are moving toward holistic, integrated care for mental, physical, addictive, and psychosocial conditions. To promote clarity, mental health will refer to all psychological issues such as substance use, suicide, and mental disorders; physical health will stand for physiological conditions; and the term “social health” will speak to environmental and social factors such as homelessness or immigration status that impact physical and mental health. Behavioral health is consistent with the social work profession’s person-in-environment (PIE) or ecological approach, the biopsychosocial assessment, and the profession’s guiding values and ethics. The works cited in General Overviews connect this understanding to social work practice in the United States and internationally. The Historical Context section elaborates further on the economic, political, and social milieu promoting the shift to behavioral health internationally and in the United States.

Article.  8022 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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