Behavioral Disorders

Human behaviors exist on a continuum, and behavioral health disorders can range from mild to serious.

An individual is said to have a specific “diagnosis” or “disorder” when his or her behaviors occur frequently and are severe. The term “behavioral disorders” has gained favor over “emotional disturbance” as a more accurate label leading to objective decision-making in diagnoses and fewer negative connotations.

Types of Behavioral Health Disorders

The following are examples of emotional and behavioral disorders:

Anxiety Disorder – a range of disorders where the main feature is exaggerated anxiety.

Bipolar Disorder – has symptoms that include an alternating pattern of emotional highs/mania and emotional lows/depression.

Depression – a series of two or more major depressive episodes, which manifest in continuing irritability or inability to get along with others.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – recurrent and persistent obsessions or compulsions that are time consuming or that cause marked distress or significant impairment.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – symptoms can develop following exposure to an extremely traumatic event or series of events or witnessing or learning about a death. Selective Mutism – occurs when an individual persistently fails to speak in specific social situations where speaking is expected.

Social Anxiety Disorder – characterized by intense fear in social situations causing distress and impaired ability to function in some parts of daily life.

Statistics on Behavioral Health Disorders

Almost one in five young people have one or more emotional or behavioral health disorders at any given time. Among adults, half of all emotional or behavioral disorders were first diagnosed by age 14 and three-fourths were diagnosed by age 24.

The Financial Cost of Behavioral Disorders

The financial costs in terms of treatment services and lost productivity associated with behavioral health disorders are estimated at $247 billion annually. Emotional and behavioral disorders also interfere with an individual’s ability to accomplish developmental tasks, such as establishing healthy interpersonal relationships, succeeding in school, and being productive in the workforce.

Diagnosing Behavioral Disorders

A diagnosis of a behavioral disorder will be based on one of several classification systems. The most familiar system is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Revised (DSM-IV). Specific behavioral characteristics are used to determine whether a child or adult has an emotional or behavioral disorder.

Treatment for Behavioral Disorders

Treatment for behavioral disorders can consist of the following:

  • Social and emotional skills training
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Medication in conjunction with therapy
  • Anger management training
  • Family therapy

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