Connection Between Mental Health And Behavior

mental health

Mental health and behavior are two subjects that people tend to think of as separate. But that’s not always the case. Mental health conditions can play a role in how you behave. And your behavior can have an impact on your mental health over time as well. Here are some of the ways that mental health and behavior are connected, along with tips on how to cope with both effectively and live a full life despite these factors affecting you.

Defining mental health

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with normal life stresses, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

It involves emotional well-being (positive thoughts about oneself), self-respect (receiving respect from others), having an overall positive outlook on life, being able to relate with others, and having satisfying relationships with friends/family/community members that include shared interests and meaningful conversations. A person who lives mentally healthy will have a general sense of feeling good every day. They’ll be able to handle their problems in productive ways; they won’t rely on harmful coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, violent behavior, or eating disorders.

Defining behavior

People often think of behavior as actions. In psychology, we define behavior a little differently. Behavior is what we do—it’s observable, it can be measured in some way, and there are consequences for that behavior. For example, if you got an A on your math test last week, that was a consequence of your studying hard to prepare for it. If you failed English last year. Because you didn’t study for exams, that was also a consequence of not studying well (the same applies if you got an F). With each action, there is always a consequence. So when psychologists talk about behavior they’re talking about what we do or how we act or react.

The link between our emotions and our behavior

What do a tickle fight with your brother, an argument with your boss, and an unwanted sexual advance have in common? At first glance, nothing. Yet there is one thing that all of these seemingly disparate situations have in common—emotions. Emotions play a critical role in how we relate to others; they affect how we handle conflict and cooperate with each other.

They are even related to our physical health. There is a good reason for why one can get angry and yell or get sad and feel low—there are direct links between emotion, behavior, motivation, thinking style, brain activity…the list goes on! The more you know about emotions–what they are, what they do–the better equipped you’ll be to manage them effectively.

There is a strong link between our emotions and our behavior. Many people struggle with mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, which can cause both physical symptoms and changes in moods. When we feel sad or stressed out, it can affect not only how we think about ourselves but also how we act toward others. Some of these behaviors may be noticed by other people, but there are also many subtle cues that may be more difficult to notice.

Bipolar Disorder

This is a mental illness that affects moods. The person experiences high levels of mania or depression with normal periods between episodes. Symptoms include rapid speech, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, agitation, and sleeplessness. The level of impairment can vary depending on each case but it’s typically moderate to severe in nature. There are several types including bipolar I (severe manic episodes), bipolar II (milder manic episodes), and cyclothymic disorder (hypomania without psychotic features). Most people experience their first episode before age 25.

Bipolar disorder

It’s estimated that about 4 percent of Americans will experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. The cause is unknown, but some research suggests there may be genetic components. People who suffer from bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings from depressed to elevated and back again (hence its nickname, manic depression). Common signs include difficulty concentrating; sleep problems; a racing heart; talkativeness; impulsive behavior; irritability or anger; and feeling like you have more energy than normal. Treatment often includes psychotherapy and medications, including mood stabilizers such as lithium carbonate or anticonvulsants such as divalproex sodium (Depakote).

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

People with Autism spectrum disorder often have high levels of anxiety. In fact, anxiety is one of their most common comorbid conditions (it is present in about 70 percent of individuals with ASD). The reason for that high number isn’t completely clear, but it may be related to differences in neurobiology and genetics. Neuroimaging studies suggest that those with ASD have differences in brain structure, which may contribute to both social deficits and an increased risk of developing comorbid conditions like anxiety. Genetics likely plays a role as well; more than 10 genes are linked to ASD.

Anxiety and Sleep Issues

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable with psychotherapy or medication. Treatment for anxiety is most effective when combined with a healthy sleep routine. Sleep deprivation can create feelings of restlessness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating which only exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. Exercise during your waking hours can also help you achieve better sleep at night; getting at least 30 minutes of exercise 3-4 times per week has been shown to reduce stress hormones (like cortisol) that interfere with restful sleep. If stress is keeping you up at night or interfering with your ability to relax in general, relaxation exercises like meditation or visualization may be helpful.

Suicide Prevention

While suicide rates in America are generally on a downward trend, according to recent data from The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), suicide rates among teenage girls have seen a dramatic increase over recent years. Of all racial or ethnic groups, American Indian teens have one of the highest suicide rates at approximately 50 percent above that of white teens; American Indian adolescents also experience higher-than-average suicide attempts.

If you notice that someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, it’s important to take them seriously and get help. However, that doesn’t mean acting right away—in fact, oftentimes waiting until you can consult a professional for advice is best for both your friend or family member and yourself.

According to a study published in 2015, suicide is one of three leading causes of death for people ages 10 to 24. It’s a harsh statistic, but many believe that improved access to mental health care could make a difference. An estimated 8 million adults in America (nearly 5 percent) suffered from severe mental illness in 2014. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends several warning signs for when people are at risk for suicide.


Having a mental illness doesn’t mean that we can’t understand others. When people are struggling, instead of just telling them to get over it, be there for them. Encourage them. Listen to them. Believe in them. That’s what makes life worth living. That’s what can help us get out of bed when life feels unbearable sometimes; knowing that there are people around us who care enough to help make our lives easier, not more difficult. Having a mental illness is not an easy thing, but it isn’t impossible either—and with friends and family by your side, you can overcome anything!

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