Introduction: People experiencing mental illness are at increased risk of chronic diseases due to unhealthy lifestyle factors as well as the deleterious effects of some psychotropic medications on metabolic health1, 2. The extent to which nutrition is considered a priority and the quality of food provided at mental health services varies widely, with environmental and financial barriers reducing the capacity of some services to promote healthy eating.
Method: Cancer Council WA and Vinnies Mental Health Service (VMHS) are working in partnership on a pilot project to improve the food environment at VMHS. Tailored strategies are being developed and implemented across seven priority areas – policy; organisational culture and values; physical environments; staff training; process and procedures; monitoring and evaluation; and organisational engagement. As part of the project, a survey was conducted with VMHS staff (n=15) and clients (n=18).
Results: Survey data revealed that while clients and staff agreed nutrition is important for wellbeing, staff did not usually talk to clients about nutrition unless clients brought it up or the client had a nutrition-related health issue. Most staff were interested in receiving training to increase their skills and confidence in talking about healthy eating with clients, and most clients indicated a willingness to receive this information. Analysis of clients’ dietary intake suggested ways in which meal provision at the service could be altered to improve health. While the project is still ongoing, a number of strategies have been successfully implemented at the service including making changes to the meals and snacks provided at the residential village, development of a nutrition policy, client nutrition education and staff training.
Conclusion: Tailored interventions focusing on the food environment of service providers have the potential to improve the mental and physical health outcomes of clients.