News and announcements 05/07/2019

This week, we’re getting loud about the impacts of poverty and food insecurity on mental health, and how we can reduce stigma and provide appropriate supports.

For too many low-income Canadians, the daily struggle to put food on the table creates enormous stress and strain. Canadians in the lowest income group are three to four times more likely to report fair to poor mental health compared to those in the highest income group.

Research also shows that Canadians who are food insecure are much more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. In Ontario, adults living in food-insecure households account for more than one-third of mental health-related hospitalizations.

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Children also bear the brunt. Children who experience food insecurity are more likely to experience mental health issues, such as hyperactivity and inattention. And hunger in childhood is linked to increased risk of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of poor mental health. Poverty and its associated physical and social deprivations can lead to mental health issues. And people living with mental illness often face significant barriers to employment and inclusion over their lifetime, which can significantly increase the incidence of poverty.

Reducing the stigma around mental illness and creating access to appropriate community and mental health supports are necessary steps to breaking down barriers and making change possible. Paying attention to the role food and nutrition play in maintaining mental health is also critical.

At Community Food Centres, nutritious food is often the first step in improvements in mental health. Bruce, a community member in Stratford, Ontario, puts it this way: "The crises became too hard to overcome on my own. I needed answers, and I found them here. They helped my mind develop through the good healthy eating they provide here."

Community Food Centres offer a welcoming space where people can enjoy a shared meal with others, and find the supports they need. Whether it’s taking time to decompress in the garden, finding nourishment through a healthy meal, or accessing resources through peer advocates—there’s a place for everyone at the table.

The results show the difference good food and welcoming spaces can make. 69 per cent of participants say their mental health has improved since they started attending Community Food Centre programs. And 92 per cent say they feel like they belong to a community. 

Community Food Centre programs like FoodFit also explore the links between nutrition and mental health, and how the nutrients we receive from the food we eat affect our brains, our bodies, and our overall mental health.

In 2018, we hosted a webinar with Karen Davison, a researcher at UBC and Dietitians of Canada, and Kristyn Dunnion, the Community Kitchen Coordinator at The Stop, that explored the topic in greater detail.