The Dietitians of Canada, the national professional association for dietitians, recognize that registered dietitians play an important role in promoting mental health. As such they have released a series of new reports titled:
- Promoting Healthy Eating through Healthy Eating and Nutritional Care,
- The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health Promotion and Prevention,
- The Role of Nutrition Care for Mental Health Conditions,
- Nutrition and Mental Health: Therapeutic Approaches
Based on a literature review of over 800 articles, these reports identify the various intersections between nutrition and mental health. The purpose of the reports is to support the work of dietitians and to guide future dietetics practice as it relates to mental health. As well, they provide policy makers and other interested groups with an evidence-based summary of the current literature about the promotion of mental health through healthy eating and nutritional care.
According to the Dietitians of Canada, interventions provided by Registered Dietitians to individuals with mental health conditions and their care providers can lead to reduced nutrition-related side effects of psychiatric medications, improved cognition, better self-management of concurrent and comorbid conditions, and improved overall occupational, social, and psychological functioning. Therapeutic approaches such as cognitive behaviour therapy, mindful-based eating awareness, dialectical behaviour therapy, motivational interviewing, cognitive adaptive training, and applied behavioural analysis used by Registered Dietitians in mental health practice show evidence that food intakes and eating behaviours can be positively modified and lead to enhanced well-being.
The reports also address other issues affecting mental health and dietetics practice including food insecurity, use of natural health products, and debate about food addictions, and highlight the importance of addressing the diverse needs of individuals with mental health conditions using cultural competence, trauma-informed care, and harm reduction to foster mental well-being, reduce disparities, and strengthen response to diverse communities.
The reports identify five areas of need:
- Advocate for Nutrition and Mental Health in Practice and Policy: the need to increase advocacy for nutrition interventions targeted for mental health consumers.
- Developing Mental Health Competency and Training for Registered Dietitians: the need to develop and implement mental health content and/or field experience in undergraduate and graduate nutrition programs as well as in dietetic internships, including training in adapted psychotherapeutic approaches (e.g., cognitive behaviour therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, mindful eating approaches, motivational interviewing), culturally competent care, and identification of nutrition-related side effects of psychiatric medications.
- Program Planning and Collaboration: the need to work across multiple sectors and with mental health consumers to increase awareness and knowledge of nutrition and mental health issues.
- Screening and Standards in Nutrition and Mental Health: the need to establish food and nutrition standards for mental health facilities and programs (e.g., community psychiatric homes, shelters, transitional houses, facilities for substance abuse recovery, food relief programs) and organizations that commission mental health services (e.g., non-profit associations).
- Mental Health and Nutrition Research: the need to further examine the role of nutrition in mental health promotion, disease prevention, and mental health condition–based interventions.