A recent study by Deakin University found evidence that a healthy diet can be a cost-effective treatment for depression. Building on the University’s previous studies in this field, researchers worked with the Deakin Food & Mood Centre’s SMILES trial to show how dietary changes could assist people with mental health issues. Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the University of South Australia, Dr Natalie Parletta, who has also published work in this field, has welcomed these new findings.
“It is high time that diet and lifestyle changes are considered at the forefront of treatment options for mental health. It makes sense that diet can impact mental health, because our brain needs nutrients and other dietary factors to work well.”
However, this study ultimately poses the question – what is cost-effective? In Australia, individual income varies significantly, therefore interpretations of what is relatively cheap can differ across socio-economic backgrounds. When asked if it is realistic to suggest that the average person could afford a dietician, Dr Parletta noted that Medicare does offer a rebate for fees if your doctor advises you to see a nutrition expert.
“If a patient is referred to a dietician by a GP, their visit will usually be covered by Medicare.”
Both Deakin University and Dr Parletta’s studies found that the healthy Mediterranean-style diet is particularly cost-effective, and is even more affordable than the typical Australian diet. Dr Parletta encouraged people struggling with mental health issues to look into the research and adopt some of these diet-related strategies.
“People of all ages and cooking abilities can easily adopt and enjoy Mediterranean style food. Some strategies include eating more vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, wholegrains and oily fish. Using extra virgin olive oil for salads and cooking is good, but avoid highly processed foods, red meat, sugar and refined grains.”
SMILES creator and Director of Deakin’s Food and Mood Centre Professor, Felice Jacka did however stress that diet was not the only solution to depression, but could aid in overall wellbeing.
“Depression, like any other mental illness, has many causes and many drivers, but if we can identify things like diet that are relatively cost-effective to address, then that should be under-pinning all other strategies for prevention and treatment.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.