The Link Between Hunger and Mental Health

The first week of October is Mental Health Awareness Week, and as we work to improve access to food in our community, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on how hunger and mental health issues intersect in the lives of those we serve. 

Recent research confirms that hunger and mental health have a “bi-directional relationship”. For clients with chronic mental illness, the ability to access food can be a major challenge. New studies are shedding light on the devastating impact food insecurity can have on families and children. 

Mothers of school-aged children who face hunger are 53% more likely to suffer from severe depression than the general population. Teachers have been telling us for years that kids can’t focus and achieve their potential when they are hungry, leading to behavioral issues in the short term, and significant long-term setbacks in academic and emotional development. Dr. Drew Ramsey of Columbia University wrote that diet is “one of the most powerful interventions that a therapist can have on a client”.         

According to Feeding America, 50% of children facing hunger will need to repeat a grade. 

Leaders in the health care sector – like our partners at Swedish Hospital – are investing in local food systems  because they understand that providing healthy food resources is one of the most effective early intervention strategies for improving community health. 

While this focus on the link between hunger and mental health is a reminder of the challenges we face, it is also exciting to consider the opportunity we have to make an impact on the lives of young people. We are doing more than just “filling bellies” for a day or a week. We are helping parents and children in difficult circumstances continue to learn, grow, and improve their lives.  

At the beginning of a new school year in the middle of a wildly unpredictable moment in our history, I’m so thankful to be doing this work, and thankful to you for the support that makes our mission possible. 

               Ross Outten, Director of Strategic Programs