Frontlines – Diet and Mental Health

Time was when I could go to my local shops and buy a pound of Cox’s apples, five pounds of Jersey potatoes and a Webb’s Wonder lettuce.

Now the shops consist of three takeaways, two hairdressers, a beauty parlour and a tattoo artist.

If I want a chicken vindaloo, a cut and blow, a Brazilian wax and “C’mon You Blues” on my back it’s fine. If I want to buy some vegetables, I have to drive to Tesco. If you don’t have a car you have to struggle with heavy bags on crowded buses, and internet shopping is no good if you don’t have a computer or only want small amounts. Yet the media keeps telling us we need five pieces of fruit and veg a day.

Recently, there have been reports from the Mental Health Foundation and Sustain (the alliance for better food and farming), linking mental health to diet. They found that many mental health service users were found to have a poor diet, lacking in fresh fruit and veg. This begs the question of whether they have a poor diet because of their mental health problems, or whether their mental health problems may be, at least partly, a result of poor diet.

Other surveys have found mental health service users are less likely to have access to good food shops, perceive themselves  as knowing less about food and cooking, and are more likely to live alone than otherpeople. All these factors make people more  inclined to stick to convenience foods.

The Mental Health Foundation’s Feeding Minds report looks at nutrition becoming an everyday component of mental health care, particularly for treating depression. Changes in farming methods over the past 50 years have had a major influence on diet. This includes the use of pesticides and increased fat content in meat due to intensive farming. Also, farmed fish can have an unnatural balance of fatty acids.

Sustain’s report also has proposals for changing farming methods.

Policy-makers including councillors should take note of these reports. Don’t grant permission for yet another tattoo artist – specify a green grocer or a fishmonger, and help them to get a start up grant.

Otherwise we’re stuck with “C’mon You Blues”.

Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working with people with learning difficulties


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