Behavioral Health App vs. Mental Health App: What’s the Difference?


Behavioral Health App vs. Mental Health App: What’s the Difference?

It is common to group mental and behavioral health together and use these terms interchangeably. While the two are intricately connected, subtle differences can give us a better understanding of how to maximize the benefits and effectiveness of each. To that end, we need to make a distinction between mental health and what constitutes behavioral health and understand the consequences that arise from treating one and the other. To that end, we also have differences in what constitutes a behavioral health app and a mental health app.

What Is Mental Health?

World Health Organization (WHO) recognized mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and can contribute to his or her community.” In other words, a mentally healthy person does not only enjoy the absence of a mental condition: there is no health without mental health. We can use mental health apps or behavioral health apps to try and address mental issues. However, without fully understanding their subtle differences, we will never be able to maximize and reap the benefits of contemporary technology that allows us to amend these issues.

What Is Behavioral Health?

As the name suggests, the topic and focus of behavioral health are the specific actions people take. They refer to the behavior of people which, in one way or the other, affects the individual’s overall health. For example, while mental health deals with the mental state of the individual and the emotions that they experience, behavioral health deals with behaviors or actions they take as a response to those emotions. In that regard, mental health apps deal with mental health and aim at treating the aforementioned mental conditions, while behavioral health apps deal with behavior or actions that people can take to address their behavioral health issues.

Common Mental Health Illnesses

To fully maximize our understanding of issues related to mental and behavioral health, we can take a closer look at some of the most common examples. WHO already highlighted some of the most pressing mental health issues that hinder global growth: depression is one of the leading causes of disability. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-29 years old. We already have a plethora of mental health apps that aim at resolving these issues or allowing individuals to treat their behavior in the comfort of their own homes. However, many of these apps are actually categorized as behavioral health apps as they deal not only with issues themselves but rather with behavior associated with dealing with those issues. To that end, some of the most common mental health illnesses include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Bipolar disorder

Depression has surged in the post-COVID era, therefore a necessity rose to address these issues through digital health or healthcare software that would offer instantaneous support and a way to address and treat this behavior. Anxiety is another common disorder defined as one’s excessive worry and sleeping issues coupled with concentration issues etc. Bipolar disorder is characterized by manic episodes and depression, along with hyperactivity. All of these issues can be addressed through the use of a mental or behavioral health app.

Common Behavioral Health Issues

As we mentioned before, mental and behavioral issues are intricately connected, therefore addressing (or not addressing) one will probably affect the other. Some of the common examples of behavioral health issues are:

  • Gambling
  • Self-injury
  • Eating disorders

As evident in the example above, behavioral health refers to the specific actions that individuals can take i.e. gambling, injuring themselves, or not eating properly. Common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. Fitness trackers, or apps that track exercise levels and nutrition are a prime example of a behavioral app that tracks our behavior and offers tangible insights as to the results of our good behavior (and sticking with the regime, following prescribed therapy, etc.) and bad behavior characterized by our unwillingness to stick with a behavioral regime that will ultimately give us numerous health benefits.

The Link Between Mental and Behavioral Disorder

To explore this topic to a fuller extent, we can take a look at the behavioral manifestations of mental disorders. To that end, using a behavioral app to treat the behavioral disorder is equivalent to changing a tire on a car that does not have a working engine.

Mental health is an umbrella term encompassing many different areas of human action. It takes into account several factors such as biology, psychological state, and behavior. In that sense, behavioral health would fall under the subset category of mental health. There are also situations in which mental and behavioral health disorders coincide (using substances, for example, to treat a mental condition), therefore addressing just the physical (behavioral) issues wouldn’t be enough. Similarly, given that the FDA approved a total of five mental health apps, relying on that technology and behavioral health apps on their own might not be enough. Using software and applications can only get us so far without actually turning to a professional who can give us guidance as to how to best utilize this digital health software to complement and enhance our mental health delivery.

Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health, Infographic