UM SSW The Institute  

Behavioral Health

Contact Info:

Denise Sulzbach
Director, Policy and Strategic Development or 410-706-3364

The term "behavioral health" is used to refer to mental and emotional wellness and behaviors that affect wellness, like substance use. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, uses the below definition of behavioral health in their strategic action plan:

[Behavioral health] is a state of mental/emotional being and/or choices and actions that affect wellness. Behavioral health problems include substance abuse or misuse, alcohol and drug addiction, serious psychological distress, suicide, and mental and substance use disorders. This includes a range of problems from unhealthy stress to diagnosable and treatable diseases like serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders, which are often chronic in nature but can be overcome. The term is also used to describe the service systems encompassing the promotion of emotional health, the prevention of mental and substance use disorders, substance use, and related problems, treatments and services for mental and substance use disorders, and recovery support.1

National research shows that one in five young people has one or more mental, emotional and behavioral disorders at any given time, with the associated annual cost of treatment, lost productivity, and crime estimated to be $247 billion.2 Ensuring that behavioral health needs of children, youth, and their families are met is an essential component of Systems of Care.

1Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). Leading Change: A Plan for SAMHSA's Roles and Actions 2011-2014. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 11-4629. Available at:

2National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2009). Report brief: A focus on cost benefits. Preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people: progress and possibilities. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.