What is Behavioral Health?

When we think of “health,” we tend to focus on the more visible and physical attributes. When one says, “I’m healthy” they’re likely speaking within the context of being free from illness, living an active lifestyle or eating nutritiously. Although these elements are important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, there’s another category of health that is equally important – behavioral health.

Behavioral health is an overarching term to describe the connection between an individual’s behaviors and the health of their mind and body. Activities that promote behavioral health result in a combined mental and physical well-being.  In modern medicine and here at Blue KC, it is a term used to describe our approach to offering complete health solutions. We continue to work with our providers and within the community to treat a patient’s whole self. To do this, we start with a critical first step – education. Empowering our community with information on the signs and symptoms of various behavioral health conditions, the barriers to care, and of course, when and how to seek treatment will improve our ability to treat those in need.  

What Are Some Types of Behavioral Health Conditions?

An individual’s behavioral health is made up of several conditions that have an impact on both the mind and body. Behavioral health encompasses all conditions that are most commonly referred to as mental health. While the two are many times used interchangeably, the Psychology Today blog reports that behavioral health is more inclusive. It promotes an individual’s well-being through prevention or intervention of mental illness, while also preventing or intervening other behavioral health conditions, like substance use disorder.

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18-44. There are many types of mood disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety.

  • Depression: The condition of depression affects an individual’s entire body. Symptoms of this condition, like a lack of sleep or loss of appetite, have a direct impact on our physical health. The National Institute of Mental Health defines it as severe symptoms that affect how someone feels, thinks and handles all daily activities. It’s important to remember that this is not the same as being unhappy or feeling “blue,” but rather a consistent feeling of despair that can last for a period of two weeks or more and has a direct impact on that person’s behavior and physical health. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association reported that among millennials, depression was the third most relevant condition in 2017, but ranked first in terms of increase in prevalence since 2014.
  • Bipolar disorder: This disorder causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks. Bipolar disorder can cause someone to have mood swings ranging from manic highs to depressive lows, both of which can last weeks or months at a time. It can be very difficult to identify, which can lead individuals to suffer from this condition for years before proper diagnosis and treatment. Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that needs to be carefully treated throughout a person’s life.
  • Anxiety: Occasional anxiety is a common part of being human. We’ve all be anxious for a job interview, first day of school or social interaction. An anxiety disorder isn’t occasional, it is an extreme and ongoing worry and fear about everyday situations. Anxiety can spur and peak quickly and can last for a long period of time. Frequent panic attacks are another symptom of an anxiety disorder. There are many forms of anxiety disorder including social and separation anxiety or many phobias.

Substance Use Disorder

This refers to the misuse of illegal or legal substances such as alcohol, which is the most commonly used drug, and can lead to addiction. Addiction to drugs and alcohol affects millions of people and their families every year. Substance use can cause serious problems at school, in relationships, at work and with the law. It often goes undiagnosed by healthcare professionals and unfortunately, results in an estimated annual combined healthcare, lost productivity and crime costs of $365 billion. Smoking cigarettes is also a big contributor to behavioral health conditions. According to The National Council for Behavioral Health, about 50 percent of people with mental illnesses and addictions smoke, compared to 23 percent of the general population. Smoking-related illnesses such as heart disease and cancer cause half of all deaths among people who have behavioral health conditions.

Behavioral Health Conditions in Children

A child’s behavior health is often a product of their environment and biological make up, two examples of each noted below. Behavioral health conditions do not discriminate by age. In fact, half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 (Blue KC Claims Data), many times going undiagnosed or treated due to the stigma around behavioral health or the barriers to accessing care.

  • Trauma: Children cope with traumatic events in different ways. It’s important to recognize that a traumatic event, like the death of a loved one, can lead to a behavioral health condition. It is recommended to find resources for the child facing trauma and to talk to a behavioral health professional for treatment. 
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is diagnosed in people who have a difficult time focusing, are overactive, unable to control their behavior, or have a combination of these symptoms.  This is one of the most commonly diagnosed behavioral conditions in children, however with proper treatment and help, the condition can be managed.

It important to recognize the signs of a behavioral health condition, as they can lead to the comorbidity of other chronic conditions and be life-threatening. With proper diagnosis and treatment, behavioral health conditions are manageable. When treated properly they support improvements in a patient’s overall health and ultimately lower health insurance costs.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a behavioral health condition, you do not need to suffer in silence. Here are ways to tackle the barriers to care and seek help.

For more information about Blue KC’s behavioral health offerings, call our behavioral health partner, New Directions. The Behavioral Health number is on the back of your Blue KC ID member card: 1-800-528-5763.

Rebecca Gernon, M.D.

Medical Director
Dr. Rebecca Gernon is a Medical Director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC). Dr. Gernon leads Blue KC’s medical cost and quality stewardship activities, oversees Blue KC’s cost affordability initiatives and engages with employers and providers to enhance the quality of care for members.

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