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It can be confusing as to what falls under the term ‘Behavioral Healthcare.’ Many of the terms and definitions that fall under behavioral health umbrella are terms we have heard before, but they may not be clear as to what truly encompass. Here are a few standard terms in the behavioral health field that everyone should be aware of.


What is Behavioral Health?

Behavioral health includes mental health, mental illness, substance abuse and issues related to habits.


Medical v. Legal Mental Competence

The process of assessing an individual’s mental competency can mean different things depending on the environment in which the term is used. In a medical setting, this is to determine if a person with a mental illness should or should not be hospitalized, even if it is against their own will. In a legal setting, a civil action to assess someone’s mental stability is often measured by a judge and their interpretation of professional opinions within the court. A judge can then decide if their mental health is stable enough without medical support or assistance.


“Danger to Self and Others”

The details of what is considered under the term danger may vary from state to state. In some states, the danger is determined if a mental disorder affects a person’s judgment so much that a person does not understand that they need treatment. If a person goes without treatment, they are at risk to harm themselves or others. If an individual has attempted to hurt themselves or have a history of high risk or suicidal tendencies, this is when the person is considered to be a danger. Disabilities often fall under this term because an individual could be of harm if they can not properly take care of their own basic physical and/or mental needs. This is often referred to as being “gravely disabled.”



This term describes an individual who, medically, is not responding well to their mental illness treatment. Even with medication and specialized therapies, the individual is showing signs of deterioration and worsening symptoms of their diagnosed illness. A person who is decompensating is most likely to end up with a mental illness crisis if treatment is no longer effective.

Each of these terms as defined can lead to different levels of care which can also be quite confusing unless there is some understanding of the roles different mental health settings play in serving those with mental health conditions.


Difference Between Acute and Residential Mental Health Settings

Acute treatment is the most intensive level of mental health treatment. Acute settings offer 24-hour care in a highly secure unit of a hospital or acute specific facility. This level of care is appropriate for those with severe and emergency mental health circumstances. For the sake of safety, patients are under constant supervision and monitoring. The goal of an acute facility is to stabilize and develop intensive treatment plans with the goal of entering into a less restrictive environment. Stays at acute facilities are often anywhere from a couple of days to 15 days.

Residential treatment is a step down from the acute treatment. Residential is still very structured and there is frequent monitoring of treatment. The most significant difference is that the treatment is either carried out in a lock and key facility for a longer stay, a supervised group home or even in a home-like environment. Residential placement can be extended if the individual is not responsive to the prescribed treatment.


Wraparound Services

Wraparound services is a philosophy of care that emphasizes support networks in the local community of the individual suffering from mental illness or emotional/behavioral disabilities and their families. As a community-based support system, this philosophy takes into account cultural relevance, family focus and centeredness, and a strength-based approach. Wraparound services look to address multiple areas of one’s life including but not limited to, home, community, school, as well as, safety, social, educational, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs. One last important characteristic is that of unconditional support. The wraparound support systems must be flexible and non-punitive even when the plans fail.