Jan 23, 2024

The mental health impacts of food insecurity

Food insecurity has a direct impact on people’s general health and well-being, including their mental health. Not knowing where your next meal may come from can be an extremely stressful experience for anyone. 

While about 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental illness each year,1 the likelihood of depression is 3 times as high, anxiety is 2.5 times as high, and sleep disorder is 2 times as high among food-insecure individuals.2  

In Who’s Hungry 2023, Daily Bread Food Bank surveyed clients about their levels of sleep, stress, and depression, where a trend emerged: all three mental health indicators were associated with disposable income.  

Food bank clients who reported always having trouble sleeping, stress and depression had a lower disposable income than food bank clients who reported never having trouble sleeping, stress, and depression.  

As one client shared: “The financial stress is affecting my mental health, making me feel anxious and overwhelmed all the time. I feel so hopeless and depressed; it’s like a dark cloud is always hanging over me.”  

Unfortunately, these trends exist outside of Toronto as well: the lowest income adults in Canada are 2.4 times more likely to have anxiety disorders than those in the highest income group.3 The reverse is also true: mental health status improves with increasing disposable income.4  

Food insecurity, and food bank usage, are driven by a lack of income – the link between poverty, food insecurity, and mental health cannot be ignored.  

More recently, record food inflation has been affecting the quality of food that people can purchase. This can lead to an unbalanced diet, as one study found a correlation between a highly inflammatory diet associated with cheaper, pre-prepared foods, and an increased risk for depression.5

But we know that a nutritious diet is not enough.  

For example, safe, adequate, and affordable housing is not just shelter, but also an investment in the health and wellbeing of low-income households.6 High-quality housing supports mental health by limiting stressors related to financial burdens or frequent moves. When households have access to high-quality housing, more household resources are available for food, healthcare, and things that can lead to better health outcomes.  

That is why Daily Bread advocates for solutions to eliminate food insecurity and end poverty through income supports, affordable housing and decent work.  

Until the root causes of poverty and food insecurity are addressed, the health and wellbeing of our communities will continue to suffer. 

To read more about Daily Bread’s research on metal health and food insecurity, click here. 

  1. The Life and Economic Impact of Major Mental Illnesses in Canada: 2011 to 2041↩︎
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31385212/ ↩︎
  3. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/science-research-data/mental-health-inequalities-income-canada.html ↩︎
  4. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/2679v  ↩︎
  5. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/high-inflammatory-diet-found-to-increase-likelihood-of-depression-new-study-finds-1.6242962  ↩︎
  6. https://www.homelesshub.ca/resource/impacts-affordable-housing-health-research-summary-0 ↩︎
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