By Jillian Hughes, Communications Director at Mental Health America
The food you put into your body is critical for maintaining good health and well-being, and that includes mental health as well as physical health. A healthy, well-balanced diet including leafy green vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, whole grains, nuts, avocados, and olive oil supports your brain and can be one way to manage mental health conditions.
But healthy food isn’t always accessible for everyone. Social, structural, and systemic inequities contribute to higher rates of hunger and the prevalence of mental health conditions for Black, Latino, and Native American individuals.
Community stakeholders, including food banks, food pantries, non-profits, public health, and health care organizations, can work to address this. One Mental Health America (MHA) affiliate, The Association for Mental Health and Wellness (MHAW), is already doing this.
Several years ago, MHAW worked with a nutritionist to look at the food their Recovery Center served during shared meals. They wanted to make healthy choices readily available. As soon as they did this, they found people opted for fresh fruits and vegetables, and they also discovered many people were facing a scarcity of these items at home. To confront this problem, they began operating food pantries at three of their service centers in an effort to continue to serve and support the overall health of their communities.
In collaboration with Feeding America, MHA identified similar ways you can take action on this in your community:
- Convene food/hospitality, education, social service, and other community partners to identify and develop solutions to hunger and health barriers within the community.
- Prioritize increasing access to affordable food, health care, and medication; addressing the social determinants of health; eliminating health disparities; amplifying community voice.
- Build trust through positive interactions and communication with the community and engage in developing strategies to address the unique and complex needs of people facing hunger, eliminating bias, recognizing we are all in this together.
- Design culturally appropriate resources; and make them accessible in local clinics, grocery stores, food banks and pantries, community centers, schools, and places of worship.
- Advocate for policy, systems, and environmental change approaches that support increased nutritious food access, improved health and well-being for community members in greatest need.