A Holistic Approach to Mental Health
John has struggled with anxiety and depression most of his adult life, yet he always felt he could cope with it on his own. That changed when his girlfriend of 20 years passed away. Now the 57-year-old is getting help for his disease at Touchstone Mental Health’s intensive residential treatment facility in Minneapolis.
A soft-spoken man with striking blue eyes and a coy smile, John said that today he’s feeling good, and admits one of the things he enjoys most in treatment, as in life, is eating.
“I feel really supported here and the food is very good,” he said. “I’ve never struggled with not having enough food, but if I weren’t here, I probably wouldn’t eat as healthy.”
While John’s favorite meals are lasagna, chicken alfredo and bacon and eggs, he said that with the help of Touchstone, he’s trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into his diet. He knows it’s important to his health.
To what extent diet impacts mental health is still being studied, but there is growing evidence to suggest that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and low-fat dairy reduces the risk of depression.
Chris Hughs, program supervisor at Touchstone Mental Health, believes that an integrative, holistic approach to care supports a healthy mind, body and spirit. It’s why Hughs and his staff make it a priority to provide fresh, healthy meals for John and the other 13 residents currently in treatment at the house.
“There’s no doubt that a nutritious diet full of fruits, vegetables and lean protein is essential to good physical health,” he said. “What’s not often discussed is how a healthy diet contributes to a person’s mental health and wellbeing.”
At Touchstone, patients are assessed by a nurse upon admission. They are asked about their dietary preferences, and if they are a vegan or vegetarian their meals will be planned accordingly. But Hughs admits that healthy food isn’t always an easy sell.
“Many of our residents are used to eating McDonald’s or junk food, so we had to slowly introduce healthier options,” Hughs explained. “We started introducing salads at lunch and more vegetables at dinner. The seasonal produce we get from Loaves & Fishes is great and there’s a nice variety. It makes a big difference because fresh produce is expensive.”
Much of the food served at the residential treatment facility comes from Second Harvest Heartland through Loaves & Fishes food redistribution program, which serves as a hub for smaller meal programs like Touchstone’s. The program offers big cost savings compared to retail, the freedom to order smaller amounts of food and access to a wider variety of food, including farm-fresh produce.
Scott Rolfs has been a chef at Touchstone Mental Health for just over two years. In addition to cooking all the meals, which he serves family style to residents, he’s also in charge of shopping for food, budgeting and menu planning. Rolfs said he likes to plan his meals a month in advance.
“I try to create a healthy balance of foods and diversity of meals,” Rolfs said. “Cream of potato soup and sloppy joes with lean turkey meat and peppers are a couple of the house favorites. We have access to a wide variety of healthy foods through Loaves & Fishes. And as a bonus, we no longer go over our food budget.”
Second Harvest Heartland works with nearly 1,000 partner food shelves, pantries and other meal programs every day to reach the one in 11 Minnesotans who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Learn more about our partnerships and how you can help.