Approximately one in five Australians aged 16-85 experience mental illness in any given year, with 45.5% experiencing a mental health disorder at some point in their lifetime.
Approximately one in five adult Australians are above the healthy weight range, have higher rates of chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease as well as Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
Individuals with mental illness typically have a poor diet, which predisposes them to a range of chronic health conditions and poorer health outcomes.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in nutrients, good fats, antioxidants and fibre, which may have a protective effect on mental health.
Levels of vitamin B12, folate (vitamin B9), iron, zinc, magnesium, and the amino acid tryptophan, are found to be low in individuals with mental health disorders. As these nutrients play a role in neurotransmitter (brain chemicals required for normal neural function) synthesis and function, limiting these in the diet may potentially affect mental health.
Research has found that population groups who consume low levels of omega-3 fats typically have higher rates of depression (up to 50% higher), while those with diagnosed depression have been found to have up to 30% less omega-3 in their brain. Supplementation has been shown to improve outcomes.
Carbohydrates have also been found to alter emotional state by impacting neurotransmitter (serotonin) activity in the brain. The glycaemic index plays a role, where high GI carbohydrates appear to have a negative effect, while low GI carbohydrates have a positive effect.
Up to 70% of Australians are not meeting the physical activity guidelines for good health. Those with mental illness can be up to 2x less likely to participate in physical activity, and when they do choose to exercise it is typically sporadic rather than sustained.
Physical activity is protective against mental illness as it activates a process that removes inflammatory chemicals in the brain that are high in those with mental health issues; stimulates release of endorphins and opioids (happy hormones); improves self-esteem and confidence.
Substance abuse can be as high as 60% among those with severe mental illnesses.
Alcohol is a depressant that can aggravate symptoms and trigger mental health issues.
Approximately 16% of working Australians now smoke, however this can be as high as 74% among those with mental illness.
Caffeine can also aggravate symptoms, particularly anxiety disorders.
Stigma towards obesity increased by 66% in previous decade, which would have a psychological impact.
Antipsychotic medication leads to an average 5-6kg weight gain in first 6-8weeks treatment.
Leptin hormone imbalances observed in individuals with mental illness stimulate appetite and lead to weight gain
Addressing Physical & Mental Health
Important to avoid the ‘silo’ approach where we focus solely on one component of health. We need to recognise the reciprocal relationship between mental and physical health to develop and implement interventions that address both.