Access to dietary advice boosts mental health

Depressed man looking into fridge. | Newsreel
Better access to professional dietary advice can improve mental health. | Photo: Real People Group (iStock)

Australians with a mental illness would benefit from better access to qualified dieticians, according to a new report.

Dieticians Australia has released an evidence brief which outlines the case for better integration of dietetic and nutrition services into Australia’s mental health care system.

In the brief, the peak body for dietetic and nutrition professionals showed why nutrition therapy should be harnessed to tackle a wide range of mental health condition.

Dieticians Australia President Tara Diversi said the power of nutrition and dietetic support remained under-utilised within the nation’s mental health care system.

“Our health care system needs to evolve to manage the often-complex needs of people living with mental health conditions,” Ms Diversi said.

The brief outlined a number of relevant mental health areas.

It said there was significant evidence that improving diet could reduce the risk of developing mood and anxiety disorders and emerging evidence that making changes to the quality of food intake could lead to the remission of depressive symptoms in some people.

Conversely, there was evidence that showed eating a diet comprised of unhealthy foods could increase the risk of developing mood and anxiety disorders.

The brief said living with psychotic disorders could present significant challenges for people when it came to meeting their nutritional needs and dealing with side-effects of certain psychotropic medications.

Including dietitians in multidisciplinary healthcare teams had been shown to have a significant impact on helping to anchor treatment and to optimise a person’s nutritional intake and health outcomes.

Dieticians Australia said there was also a place for nutrition advice in the recovery from substance use, as nutrient deficiencies that commonly occur in people using alcohol, for example, posed a significant risk to physical, psychological and social health.

The brief said counselling from a dietitian was a critical component of the recovery journey in harmful substance use.

It said dietitians were continuing to grow as core members of healthcare teams when it came to the treatment of eating disorders, adding eating disorders often co-exist with other mental health conditions.

Ms Diversi said Accredited Practising Dietitians should take a leading role within multidisciplinary teams when it came to providing effective, evidence-based dietary therapy for the management of mental health conditions.

“Australians must be supported with food and nutrition guidance to prevent occurrences of mental health conditions,” she said.

Ms Diversi said there were limited pathways for Australians facing mental health challenges to access nutrition therapy and dietetic services through the Medicare system.

“We’ve been calling on the Government to create avenues through Medicare and other funding programs to support Australians with depression, mood disorders and severe mental illness to access individual and group consultations with Accredited Practising Dietitians as part of a holistic and truly multidisciplinary approach to care,” she said.

“Currently there are only limited Medicare item numbers for people with eating disorders and other chronic health conditions to access an Accredited Practising Dietitian for mental health care.”

Read the evidence brief.