This year, Mental Health Awareness Week commenced on Sunday, Oct. 6 and ended on Saturday, Oct. 12. Unless you are actively engaged in the mental health community, the week might have passed without your knowing. Much has been written and much can be said about the love-hate relationship that the Black community has with mental health services. We all want to live our best life but for many in the Black community, the journey to our best life may hit a snag if it requires getting some help from a mental health professional.
Yet, I often say that if there is any one community that needs to have a chat with a professional, it’s us. Slavery, discrimination and exclusion from access to healthcare, education, social services and economic resources translate into socioeconomic disparities experienced by people of color. Socioeconomic status, in turn, is directly linked to mental health.
Black people continue to experience a disproportionate share of stressors related to poverty, discrimination, abuse, trauma and discrimination. Negative stereotypes continue to occur with measurable, adverse consequences. Despite some progress, racism continues to have an impact on the mental health of Black people. All of these factors have a negative impact on one’s mental health. These are the facts. So, we know we need mental health support. What can we do so that more of us get it?
According to Dr. Delvena Thomas, before even going to sit with a professional, the most important thing we can do for our mental health is to lay a good foundation by eating healthy. Yep. You heard that right. If keeping that teenage physique is not motivation enough, perhaps keeping mentally healthy might be what you need. As one of the most renowned psychiatrists and one of the few Black females serving South Florida she says, “I understand the stigma associated with mental health in the Black community.”
“There is a belief within the Black community that the panacea of mental health treatment and prevention is either speaking with a therapist or taking medication. I feel it is my duty to not only educate on the wide range of mental health techniques but to also make mental health accessible.” In discussing alternative means of mental health treatment Dr. Thomas recommends exercise, prayer and meditation, and most importantly, a healthy diet.
So, what does a healthy diet for your brain look like? Well, if you’re like myself, you may be unaware of how what we eat has a direct impact on our brain function and our mood. While I do recognize feeling sluggish after a large greasy meal or the “itis” as we say, I was stunned by what Dr. Thomas shared.
Here are some highlights of her “dos” and “don’ts” when eating for your mental health.
Drink water. Frequently! It’s the easiest thing that we can do for our brain given that our brains are more than 70 percent water. “If you’re feeling sluggish, not retaining information well, or finding your mind is just not processing properly, there is a strong possibility that you are not consuming enough water,” she advises. “Keeping a hydrated body is good for your skin and overall health but it is important to keep a hydrated mind as well.”
Eat blueberries. A six-year study in over 16,000 older individuals found a link between blueberries and delays in mental aging by up to 2.5 years. The antioxidants in them seem to benefit your brain by aiding brain function and delaying mental decline and aging by up to 2.5 years.
Eat sweet potatoes. Besides being a great alternative to the potato, the sweet potato also acts as a mood-booster. This starchy vegetable is full of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which helps with reducing free radical damage to brain cells. Sweet potatoes can also prevent oxidative stress leading to DNA damage, which appears to be common in emotional conditions such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
Eat salmon. While generally fish is a health food option, salmon is one of the most preferred. With its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon can help us with our thinking and has been linked to a reduction in mental disorders such as depression. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to improvements in learning and memory.
Eat tomatoes. Tomatoes are not only good for helping men maintain a healthy prostate, they are good for both sexes with maintaining a positive mood. The skin of tomatoes contains lycopene, which gives the tomato its distinctive color. Lycopene acts a preventative against depression or feeling blue or melancholic. So, eat tomatoes on a regular and consistent basis.
While beneficial to know the “do’s,” there are some “don’ts” to know as well. Although it may sound cliché, Dr. Thomas said that we truly are what we eat, not only physically but mentally. Fast food, junk food and foods with little nutritional value can impair brain function and should be avoided. Also limit your consumption of products with caffeine. If you have trouble sleeping or struggle with anxiety, limiting your caffeine intake if you can help.
If you truly want to live your best life, be sure to incorporate Dr. Thomas’ diet for a healthy mind. For more healthy foods and nutrition that your brain will love, check out Dr. Delvena Thomas on YouTube. A prolific social media influencer, you may also find her on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram. Of course, there are times when you may need more than a healthy diet, so you may also reach her at her office, DRT Behavioral Services at 305-981-1700.