Behavioral Health: Historical Background


Psychiatrists and psychologists rely on observing human behavior to diagnose individuals, predict actions, and explain feelings. Noteworthy, behavioral health is a relatively new topic compared to other medical sciences. However, there are significant milestones that have been made in the development of this discipline. Many theorists and researchers have conducted research to understand character differences, the role of environment in personality development, and susceptibility to mental issues that negatively affect the holistic wellness of individuals. Moreover, there are global events that had a widespread effect on humans and marked a discovery and transition of psychiatric and psychological practice. Although many factors have contributed to behavioral health, the most significant events with major changes include World War 2 (WW2), the development of diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM) criteria, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

World War 2

WW2 remains an infamous war that involved the vast majority of countries throughout the globe. The war lasted from 1939 to 1945 following the bombing of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Kring & Johnson, 2018). Notably, the battle was intense; innocent civilians succumbed to death, and some sustained injuries from the weapons used. For example, in Germany, at least 1.25 million tons of explosive bombs were dropped (Akbulut-Yuksel et al., 2022). The United States was a significant power among the allies and engaged in carpet bombing, where they attracted targeted areas at night. Many people were displaced, lost their relatives and friends, became disabled, and suffered harsh economic conditions.

The WW2 significantly impacted behavioral science due to many people depicting signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Notably, the adults were not the only victims of WW2. Yet, according to Akbulut-Yuksel et al. (2022), exposure to combat during childhood is the most extreme form of trauma. Moreover, one study indicates that civilians who witnessed the WW2 had an elevated risk for major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety (Frounfelker et al., 2017).

Thus, the changes that occurred in behavioral health professional following WW2 include high prevalence of people showing poor general health and multiple morbidities. The implication for many individuals suffering from mental illnesses led to other health concerns given the connection between the body, soul and spirit. The positive impact and development in practice is that psychiatrists and psychologists did several studies that increased the literature on the effects of psychological health on the well-being of individuals.

Development of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Criteria

The development of the DSM has made a significant contribution to the study and practice of behavioral health. There were several attempts by psychiatrists like Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926) and world health organization (WHO) to classify mental disorders, but none was comprehensive (Kring & Johnson, 2018). For instance, in the WHO international statistical classification of diseases and causes was criticized for false representation of psychological disorders. However, in 1953 the American Psychiatric Association published the first DSM. In 1968 they made another revision and published DSM II, then DSM-III in 1980, DSM-III-R in 1987, DSM-IV in 1994, and DSM IV-TR in 2000 (Kring & Johnson, 2018). As evident from the several publications, several revisions continue to be made in the DSM as research evidence reveals new symptoms for possible psychological disturbances.

The primary impact of the DSM was the standardization assessing and comprehending psychiatric issues among mental health professionals. Specifically, the DSM changed diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric and psychological problems as it provides criteria for understanding human behavior in the face of unprecedented events. Moreover, the mental-health practitioners now had a manual that led to standardization of their practice. The DSM helped to connect circumstances, life experiences, and genetics in understanding diseases. A significant change was the recognition that the body, soul, and spirit are all connected with health.

COVID-19 Pandemic

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the most recent widespread disaster in human history. The disease was first identified in 2019 in China, after which it spread to other parts of the world and was recognized as a global pandemic of public health concern. The nature of COVID-19 is that it is an acute infection with a high death rate. Moreover, the disease is airborne, leading to stringent measures such as lockdowns (including closing of most institutions, restricted movement, and isolation) (Cosic et al., 2020). Many people had to endure harsh economic conditions while facing fear of possible infection and death. Moreover, several people have already lost their relatives and friends following the COVID-19 deaths.

The Impact of COVID-19 on behavioral health is that it led to the widespread use of digital technology to cope. Since there was restriction o movement, people had to look for an alternative way of talking with their therapist (Pascoe et al., 2022). Notably, computerized care started before COVID-19, but many people embraced it after the pandemic. The other change is that people adopted social media for entertainment and expression of behavior and feelings without physical contact.


In conclusion, behavioral health has been affected by significant milestones in human history, especially those that had a widespread impact. The main aftermath of WW2 was a high population of people with posttraumatic disorders, depression, and anxiety which prompted behavioral scientists to research and increase literature and awareness of mental concerns. The development of DSM led to the standardization of diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses. The other major event was the COVID-19 pandemic which changed practice from physical to virtual therapies and entertainment. Many factors continue to shape the course of behavioral science as the goal is to enhance optimal wellness.


Akbulut-Yuksel, M., Tekin, E., & Turan, B. (2022). World War II blues: The long–lasting mental health effect of childhood trauma. National Bureau of Economic Research, 1(1), 1-52. Web.

Cosic, K., Popovic, S., Sarlija, M., & Kesedzic, I. (2020). Impact of human disasters and COVID-19 pandemic on mental health: Potential of digital psychiatry. Psychiatria Danubina, 32(1), 25-31. Web.

Frounfelker, R., Gilman, S. E., Betancourt, T. S., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Alonso, J., Bromet, E. J., Bruffaerts, R., De Girolamo, G., Gluzman, S., Gureje, O., Karam, E. G., Lee, S., Lépine, J., Ono, Y., Pennell, B., Popovici, D. G., Ten Have, M., & Kessler, R. C. (2017). Civilians in World War II and DSM-IV mental disorders: Results from the World Mental Health survey initiative. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 53(2), 207-219. Web.

Kring, A. M., & Johnson, S. L. (2018). Abnormal psychology: The science and treatment of psychological disorders. John Wiley & Sons.

Pascoe, M. C., Dash, S., Klepac Pogrmilovic, B., Patten, R. K., & Parker, A. G. (2022). The engagement of tertiary students with an online mental health intervention during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic: A feasibility study. Digital Health, 8(1), 1-8. Web.

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