Hunger Harms Mental Health

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It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and we believe it’s important to acknowledge the connection between mental health and food insecurity. The challenges of food insecurity are many – it goes beyond empty tummies – and no age group is safe from the harmful effects it plays on mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic and social impacts, including job losses, health risks, loneliness, supply chain issues and inflation, have hurt everyone. But it has been particularly damaging to the mental health of those experiencing food insecurity.

A growing body of research suggests that food insecurity is associated with poor mental health, including depression, anxiety, and stress. In addition, large-scale disasters and stressful environmental or societal conditions (such as COVID-19) are also associated with higher rates of adverse mental health outcomes. This means that the impact of the pandemic compounds all the challenges food-insecure adults were already facing.

Mothers and children, in particular, are at high risk of experiencing traumatic effects on their mental health. Food-insecure mothers have more than twice the rates of mental health issues than mothers who are food secure. The American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that mothers with school-aged children who face severe hunger are 56% more likely to suffer from PTSD and 53% more likely to suffer from severe depression.

Compounding these issues, the odds of behavioral problems among children with food-insecure mothers are double those among children with food-secure mothers. Food-insecure parents are not just anxious about how it will hurt themselves but also their children. Children of all ages whose families are food insecure are at greater risk for mental health challenges, including poor early cognitive development, inattention, poor impulse control, decreased academic performance, and depression.

Older adults aren’t immune to the impact of hunger on mental health either. Adults aged 50–80 who are food insecure are 20% more likely to experience poor mental health than those who are food secure. With inflation rates rapidly increasing, the number of seniors on fixed incomes unable to afford enough to eat and still pay for their other necessities is also rising.

There is more to good mental health than having enough to eat, but when you can feed yourself and your loved ones, you can better cope with other mental health challenges. If you are struggling with food insecurity, please know that you don’t have to fight it alone. Utah Food Bank is here to help. Click here to find out about the resources available to you.

If you would like to join us in fighting hunger and making Utah a healthier, happier place, click here to donate now.

Mental Health