With Mental Health Week 2014 now wrapping up, we look out how food security must be addressed in order to tackle many of our social challenges.

Last week we focused on poverty. This week the buzz has been around Australia’s mental health challenges.

And the challenges are significant; approximately half of Australia’s population will experience a mental illness in their lifetime[i]. For some groups, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders[ii], and refugees and asylum seekers, we know this percentage is higher[iii].

The trends are the similar for those groups experiencing food insecurity. Those on low incomes, or homeless, newly arrived refugees[iv], and aboriginal communities[v] are more likely to be food insecure.

Articles circulating the web recently have made the point loud and clear; a healthy, nutritionally adequate diet is key to improving mental health outcomes.

Food nourishes us. Not only physically, but also in the emotional and social sense. Shopping for, preparing, cooking, eating, and sharing food are all powerful actions that help us develop social and cultural capital, form supportive networks, provide rhythm, build trust, and support our own social end emotional wellbeing.

We all have anecdotal evidence of how gathering around food, and sharing meals with others has brought us a sense of inclusion, connection, or community.

On the other hand, not having access to food, or being able to participate in sharing meals can cause fear, anxiety and stress, and contribute to poorer mental healthWhat is Food Security outcomes [vi]. Adequate access to food and nutrition, and opportunities for social inclusion can support those dealing with anxiety and stress, and help develop healthier communities.

The link between food security and mental health highlights the important role of food in our society, and its power to shape wellbeing and equity.  While it is not quite as simple as healthy food = happy people, making sure those around us can put nutritionally adequate food on the table is an important step in tackling some of our nation’s mental health issues.

Whether it be mental health, poverty, obesity, social inclusion, or environmental change, food security links to many of our nation’s challenges. Food is at the core of so much we do, and is such an important social and cultural symbol. In exploring food security solutions at Putting Food on the Table, we aim to contribute to some of the broader solutions, and support long-term policy and practice that enhances wellbeing for all.

Lila Kennelly

The Right To Food 2014 “Putting Food on the Table” Conference is being held this October 13-14 at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.

From around the web:

You are what you eat: how diet affects mental well-being

Eating right for mental health

Healthy eating for people with depression, anxiety and related disorders

Dieticians Association of Australia National Mental Health Commission

Food Insecurity Predicts Mental Health Problems in Adolescents



[i] Australian Bureau of Statistics (2009). National Survey of Mental Health and.

Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 4326.0, 2007. ABS: Canberra.


[ii] Jorm, A, et. al. 2012. Mental health of Indigenous Australians: a review of findings from community surveys, Medical Journal of Australia, 196 (2): 118-121.


[iii] Minas, H, 2013. Getting the facts about refugee and migrant mental health in Australia, The Conversation, 8 October 2013 < http://theconversation.com/getting-the-facts-about-refugee-and-migrant-mental-health-in-australia-18902>.


[iv] Faye Southcombe, NSW Refugee Health Service Feeding the family in an unfamiliar environment: Food insecurity among recently resettled refugees. 


[v] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2008.


[vi] Anglicare, 2008. When There’s Not Enough to Eat.

Photo credit: Mental Health Victoria