Significant role of nutrition in mental health

One of the key messages highlighted by Dietitians Australia (DA) at a recent hearing for the Select Committee Inquiry into Mental health and Suicide Prevention is the significant role that nutrition plays in mental health, and the importance of ensuring all Australians have adequate access to nutrition support services.

“While the Medicare Better Access Initiative for mental health provides funded visits to other allied health professionals such as occupational therapists and social workers, APDs [Accredited Practising Dietitians] are currently excluded,” says President of Dietitians Australia, Tara Diversi.

“This means Australians do not have access to all the support they need to manage their mental health.

“Food and mood have a reciprocal relationship and being able to see a dietitian for both prevention and treatment, means more Australians can be equipped with essential skills to opt for foods that promote wellness and emotional resilience,” she says.

According to Ms Diversi, providing greater access to dietitians and “nutrition services through Medicare and other government-funded initiatives” would help to ease the burden placed on other healthcare professionals to provide nutrition support – healthcare professionals “who are already at capacity providing their core medical care”.

Ms Diversi says that as Australians continue to live with the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, and also the 2019 bushfires, dietetic support is needed now more than ever to “support, treat and manage mental health” concerns – nutrition support that can be delivered through APDs who have the skills to deliver medical nutrition therapy for both physical and mental health conditions.

“Higher diet quality – including foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrains — supports healthy brain function and better mental health. On the flip side, energy-dense, nutrient-poor options, that provide little in the way of health, only worsen mental illness,” says Ms Diversi.

“For those experiencing mental illness, medications, energy levels, stigma and self-esteem are just some of the many factors that can reduce the ability for a person to plan, access, prepare and consume nutritious foods.

“As we continue to live with the impacts of the 2019 bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to ensure all Australians can access dietetic support to prevent, treat and manage their mental health.”

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