May 20, 2021 is Mental Health Action Day. In the wake of COVID-19 and its impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of people, more people are experiencing new or exacerbated mental health conditions. These people are everywhere and everyone. Mothers. Fathers. Sisters. Brothers. Families. Seniors. Children. During May, National Mental Health Month, a coalition of nonprofits, brands and influential leaders came together to launch the first-ever Mental Health Action Day to drive our culture from awareness to action and bring mental health to the forefront of conversations.
What does hunger have to do with mental health?
A skeletal frame. A gaunt, vacant stare. An expression of desperation. That’s what many people visualize when they think about the impact of hunger on the body. And it’s true, extreme hunger and malnourishment can have that effect. Yet, hunger can also affect the mind and body in ways that are less visible but just as devastating. As Feeding America reports, for the 42 million people in America who may struggle to put food on the table due to the pandemic, this reality makes an impact on their lives every day.
In South Jersey right now, more than 170,000 people are struggling with hunger every day in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties – of these individuals living with the daily threat of hunger, more than 60,000 are children. To the heartbreak of tens of thousands of mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers living in South Jersey today, their children are hungry. For a child to go to bed hungry, and wake up to little breakfast, the stress and desperation is unbearable for families already sacrificing and struggling to maintain a reflection of normalcy. At the heart of this despair is often mothers – crushed by stress.
When children are hungry, the mental anguish on mothers is extreme.
Hunger impacts the mental health of mothers: Facing hunger can be stressful. Constantly worrying about where your next meal will come from can cause mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and even posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that mothers with school-aged children who face severe hunger are 56.2% more likely to have PTSD and 53.1% more likely to have severe depression. The inability to feed your loved ones can have traumatic effects on a person’s mental health.
Hunger impacts our children: It’s hard to concentrate in school when you’re hungry. Roaring stomachs cause children to be cranky, hyperactive, and aggressive. These behavioral issues can distract kids from their school work, leading to developmental delays and learning disabilities. Fifty percent of children facing hunger will need to repeat a grade. And the signs that a child is struggling with hunger can often be hard to spot.
Hunger increases our risk of chronic disease: According to the USDA, there is a strong connection between hunger and chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. In fact, 58% of the households that receive food from the Feeding America network have one member with high blood pressure. And 33% have a member with diabetes.
As Feeding America shares, we’ve all rushed out of the house without eating breakfast. And when noon rolls around and your coffee cup is empty, focusing becomes difficult and your stomach starts voicing its opinion…yet it’s too early for lunch! But many people across the country aren’t just skipping breakfast. And the more meals they miss, the more severe hunger affects their minds and bodies.
Hunger impacts our ability to think, function and dream. Hunger can create health issues, despondency and depression. Hunger threatens mental health – for children, individuals, families and seniors.