Have you heard of the term ‘Nutritional Psychiatry’?
If you haven’t so far, you are likely to notice the growing buzz in the coming months. One of its most exciting implications is really in workplace mental wellbeing and I’ll explain why shortly.
A flurry of articles published recently in the mainstream press, Harvard Health and even psychiatric publications have been highlighting the growing body of research now supporting the role of diet in mental health. Some psychiatrists, traditionally bound by NICE guidelines to conventional approaches such as talking therapies and medication, are calling for increased support for this new field which could offer so much potential in the growing mental health crisis.
Why are these developments so relevant in the workplace?
This new research is confirming the scientific link between dietary patterns and the risk of anxiety and depression, highlighting its effectiveness. However on a practical level there are also intrinsic benefits to nutrition within a workplace environment.
Firstly it offers a fresh perspective on mental wellbeing, making the connection between how we feel and the biochemistry in our body – a scientific, practical understanding, which people can start implementing straight away. Small, achievable adjustments are enough to make a big difference which is felt immediately. Simply replacing a daily food habit with a healthier alternative (think a nutritious snack to prevent the 11am trip to the vending machine) can set someone on a positive cycle very quickly. Improved energy and mood can in turn make exercise or mindfulness practice feel more within their reach.
Speaking of which, mindfulness has contributed a huge amount to mental wellbeing in recent years, providing an effective lifestyle tool. Will it be for everyone though? Although it will greatly help some, probably not.
Food is a universal topic which engages most people – let’s face it, most of us love to eat and to talk about it! It’s a habit we perform’ everyday, whether we pay much attention to it or not. It can provide a non-threatening approach to mental wellbeing as well as a bonding experience within an organisation. It’s not about prescribing a specific therapy for a specific issue, which in itself can create a stigma, but rather optimising mental wellbeing for everyone.
Some of the newest and most fascinating areas of research into nutrition for mental wellbeing include:
- The gut-brain connection, with groundbreaking research into how the bacteria in our digestive tract activate neural pathways which influence anxiety levels, perception of stress and mental outlook
- The nutrients which are essential for good brain function, in which many people’s diets are deficient: magnesium (green leafy veg), zinc (eggs, legumes), B vitamins (a wide variety of whole foods) and D3 (mainly sunlight)
- Discoveries in the role of certain antioxidants in neuroplasticity – in other words the growth of new neurons and damage repair, through a diet rich in carotenoid rich foods (your orange fruit and veg), omega 3 fatty acids (as in oily fish), Vitamin E (your daily handful of raw nuts and seeds), L-theanine (green tea) and polyphenols (plants are abundant sources as is dark chocolate – good news!)
Mental health problems at work cost the economy £34.9bn last year according to the centre for Mental Health – £1,300 for every employee in the UK and it’s still increasing. The publication Psychiatry Advisor says that treatment with medication and psychotherapy is ineffective for a substantial portion of people. The emergence of an alternative, widely effective approach is timely and its applications for employee wellbeing exciting.
Imagine what this knowledge could do for your employees: get in touch to discuss how we can work with you.