For a person like Barry Graham, who grew up so poor that sometimes all he had to eat was what he managed to steal, “one of the most painful moments of [his] life, a moment of pure grief, pure loss, was caused not by the death of a person, but by being deprived of a meal.”
Food insecurity is a NATIONAL issue that is driving depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior in poor communities across the United States. Today is the first day of Mental Health Awareness month and it is imperative that we emphasize the destructive effects of food insecurity on mental health.
Food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. In other words, to be food insecure is to not have enough food, resulting in an UNHEALTHY and INACTIVE life.
Approximately 40 million Americans, of which 12 million are CHILDREN, are food insecure.
The detrimental effects of food insecurity are not constrained solely to the physical body, but many studies have demonstrated the dangerous relationship between household food insecurity and mental illnesses for persons of all ages.
In adults, food insecurity has been found to be strongly correlated with depression and linked to suicidal behavior. Let that sink in: not enough food consistently on the table is a factor of depression and suicide.
Mothers who face food insecurity are especially vulnerable, being nearly FOUR times as likely to experience depression. Many times, poor mothers are forced to choose between feeding themselves, or feeding their beloved children. This is not a choice anyone should have to make. Sadly, the more food insecure the mother, the more likely she is to suffer from a mental illness.
This is different than the “baby blues,” which any mother can experience regardless of available food and resources. Here we are talking about preventable, long-term mental illnesses that send ripple effects throughout the lives of everyone in the family, especially the children.
Food insecurity most profoundly affects the mental health of children. Some of the issues it leads to include nutritional deficits and traumatizing long-term stress. These cause: 1) Poor childhood and social development, such as the inability to play nicely with other kids on the playground; and 2) Higher risks that he/she will suffer from mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, beginning at the age of a CHILD.
The brain develops and grows rapidly during childhood. This means that a child lacking proper nutrition is twice as likely to suffer developmental delays. For example, a lack of iron is the leading cause of preventable mental disabilities and brain damage in young children. Imagine what it would look like, to change the whole course of a life, by simply introducing enough iron into the child’s diet.
For Barry, even after the hard times, of “inadequate food or no food at all,” during his childhood were over, “[he] still lived in fear of their return.”
While many of the adverse effects caused by food insecurity likely begin in the earlier stages of adolescence, food insecure teenagers suffer additional stresses and greater risks of mental illnesses. They are are 2.3 times more likely to suffer from a mental illness including mood, anxiety, behavior, and substance disorders than their food secure counterparts.
Additionally, teenagers facing food insecurity may be worried, stressed, and struggling due to uncertainty of where their next meal will come from, physical pains of hunger, or a lack of nutrients needed for the brain to function properly. Teenagers should be “stressed” about homecoming, college applications, friendships, but NOT where or how to get a meal.
Giving people access to adequate food is IMPORTANT. We have an obligation to make sure that not even one person suffers from a lack of consistent food. Food insecurity not only affects one’s physical health and well-being, but threatens their mental and emotional health as well.
The good news is, we can SOLVE hunger. TangoTab has countless opportunities for you to intervene and stop the vicious cycle of food insecurity. Whether its devoting your Saturday morning to making sandwiches at a Feed the City event, or using the TangoTab app to give a meal to a food insecure person at no extra cost to you, you can help put food on the plates of your neighbors in need. We, as a community, can and must DO SOMETHING.
“It is an eternal obligation toward the human being not to let him suffer from hunger when one has a chance of coming to his assistance.” -Simone Weil