Now more than ever, our mental health needs protection, if we are going to thrive. We are living in a pandemic, which daily, continues to test our emotional and psychological wellness. Are we Mentally grounded enough to get through these moments, whole and sound? For this to happen, it is necessary for us to prioritize our mental health — if it hasn’t been a priority — because we are not living in ordinary times; we are living in an era of Covid-19.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that of the 21.6 million people living in Ghana, 650,’000 are suffering from a severe mental disorder and a further 2,166, 000 are suffering from a moderate to mild mental disorder. The treatment gap is 98% of the total population expected to have a mental disorder.
What is Mental Health?
Undoubtedly, mental health is an integral and essential component of health. In a write-up by WHO, it explains mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities; can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Mental health is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life. On this basis, the promotion, protection and restoration of mental health can be regarded as a vital concern of individuals, communities and societies throughout the world.
How Ghanaians Are Mentally Coping with Covid-19?
Since March 13th of last year when the first two cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the country, many Ghanaians have been living consistently with anxiety and fear, even as we all try to adhere to the social protocols in place. Fear and anxiety often occur together. They relate to a known or understood threat, whereas anxiety follows from an unknown, expected, or poorly defined threat.
Fear and anxiety both produce a similar stress response. Muscle tension, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath mark the most significant physiological symptoms associated with them, and according to psychologists and medical experts around the globe, more and more patients are coming into their consulting rooms with such complaints, Ghanaians not excluded. But quite unfortunately, beyond living in fear and anxiety, there have also been several reported cases of stigma against confirmed patients and their relatives, as well as frontline health workers and Ghanaian citizens who have returned from COVID-19 prone countries. For a while, this situation called for intense public education and campaigns against Covid-19 stigmatization, and now the situation seems to be getting better.
It is in this same light that Agrihouse Foundation, as part of its social awareness activities, seeks to use this platform to continue remining Ghanaians that, beyond adhering to public protocols of covid-19, eating healthy is also a sure way to get through these challenging times. As a matter of fact, there are specific foods that improve mental health, and now more than ever, the situation calls for conscious and mindful eating, such as consuming fruits, vegetables and approved livestock diets, as ways of enhancing emotional and psychological wellbeing. It is important to note that, interventional projects of Agrihouse Foundation, such as, Women in Food and Agricultural Leadership Forum (WOFAGRIC) and Agrihouse Agri-Woman Marketplace, speak directly to this agenda or goal. Particularly, the Agri-Woman Marketplace project, which is a monthly farmers market designed to scale-up our ongoing efforts to support women agribusinesses explore innovative means of selling and marketing products and services of women agribusinesses during COVID-19 and beyond.
The project is in direct response to the “call to Action” by over 10, 000 women farmers, belonging to different Farmer Based groups, in their quest for us, to create and establish a grounded market platform, that will essentially get them to promote, market and sell off their fresh produces from their respective farms. With this new project, Agrihouse is championing a community support agriculture transformational program, that seeks to drive innovative sales and marketing for women in agriculture. Ghanaians who purchase from this monthly Agri-market will definitely be purchasing fresh, cost effective food stuffs.
Improving Our Mental Health with Mindful Eating to Fight Covid-19
Eating healthy has many health benefits. It helps us sleep better, have more energy and better concentration – and this all adds up to healthier, happier lives. It’s important to note that, healthy eating isn’t about cutting out foods. it’s about eating a wide variety of foods in the right amounts to give your body what it needs; in this context, eating foods that improve our mental health to help us cope well with the stresses of these times. From a young age, we’re taught that eating well helps us look and feel our physical best.
What we’re not always told is that good nutrition significantly affects our mental health. A healthy, well-balanced diet can help us think clearly and feel more alert. It can also improve concentration and attention span. Thus, pay attention to how you feel when you eat, and what you eat, is one of the first steps in making sure you’re getting well-balanced meals. Since many of us don’t pay close attention to our eating habits, so nutritionists recommend keeping a food journal; documenting what, where and when you eat is a great way to gain insight into your patterns.
Most times, stress and depression are severe and can’t be managed with medications alone. A healthy eating habit can help one overcomes these challenges, because your brain and nervous system depend on nutrition to build new proteins, cells and tissues. In order to function effectively, your body requires a variety of carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. To get all the nutrients that improve mental functioning, nutritionists suggest eating meals that include a variety of foods. In this context, the following are some foods that medical experts have noted, can help improve metal and emotional wellness, which we need considerably in these times, if we are going to overcome the stresses, fears and anxieties living in a pandemic throw at us daily.
While fish, in general, is a healthy choice, salmon is at the top of the list. It’s a “fatty” fish, containing high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a reduction in mental disorders such as depression. Omega-3s have been shown to boost learning and memory as well. Salmon also has a naturally high-occurring amount of vitamin D, which is often added to foods and has been linked to lower rates of depression. Other types of fish with high Omega-3 counts include tuna, mackerel, and herring.
Chicken, like turkey, is a delicious lean-protein choice containing the amino acid tryptophan. Though it’s often associated with post-Thanksgiving naps, this substance doesn’t actually knock you out as urban legends go, but it does help your body produce serotonin — which is vital in helping your brain manage your mood, fight depression and help maintain strong memory.
- Whole Grains
Many types of food fall under this category, like beans, soy, oats and wild rice. While your body and brain utilize carbohydrates for energy, too often we consume simple carbs, which lead to blood sugar spikes. Foods classified as whole grains contain complex carbohydrates, which leads to glucose being produced more slowly, as a more even and consistent source of energy. Also, whole grains help the brain absorb tryptophan, which means that when eaten in conjunction with foods like chicken and turkey, you can further reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety while boosting brain function.
Avocados are full of vitamin K and folate, which help protect your brain against stroke. They also provide a boost to your memory and concentration. Avocados serve up a high dose of lutein, too, which studies have linked to improved brain function.
Spinach and other leafy greens provide your brain with solid amounts of folic acid, which has been shown to be a great deterrent to depression. It also helps fight off insomnia, which is heavily linked to mental impairments and can help reduce dementia in older adults.
Yogurt and other products containing active cultures are excellent sources of probiotics. Often associated with digestive health, probiotics have been shown to play a role in reducing stress and anxiety. Yogurt can also provide you with potassium and magnesium, which helps oxygen reach the brain, further improving its ability to function.
Like salmon, nuts are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, helping to fight depression. Cashews, for example, help provide oxygen to the brain with a dose of magnesium. Almonds contain a compound called phenylalanine, which is shown to help the brain produce dopamine and other neurotransmitters that boost your mood. Phenylalanine has also been linked to a reduction in the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
- Olive Oil
Pure, extra virgin olive oil has been quite popular as of late as a part of healthy Mediterranean-style diets. This type of oil contains polyphenols, which help to remove the effects of proteins linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. It can also help improve learning and memory. Be careful when shopping for olive oil, however. Many brands liberally cut their product with vegetable or seed oils, significantly reducing its brain health benefits. Research brands online to find brands tested to ensure they contain pure olive oil.
The source of a tomato’s red hue, lycopene is classified as an all-around beneficial phytonutrient. One of the many health boosts it provides is in the fight against brain disease. It’s been shown to delay the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s Disease, fighting off cell damage. In addition, lycopene has been shown to help with memory, attention, logic and concentration.
- Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is categorized as such due to its cocoa content, which you won’t find in milk chocolate. And the darker the better — 85% cocoa or more is the most beneficial. Dark chocolate contains high levels of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. It has been shown to boost attention and memory, enhance mood and help fight cognitive decline in older adults. Just remember, chocolate should still be consumed in moderation.
Moringa has many important vitamins and minerals. The leaves have 7 times more vitamin C than oranges and 15 times more potassium than bananas. It also has calcium, protein, iron, and amino acids, which help your body heal and build muscle. It’s also packed with antioxidants, substances that can protect cells from damage and may boost your immune system. There’s some evidence that some of these antioxidants can also lower blood pressure and reduce fat in the blood and body.
Mushrooms are a low-calorie food that packs a nutritional punch. Loaded with many health-boosting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Mushrooms raised with exposure to ultraviolet light are a good source of Vitamin D. Mushrooms are particularly excellent source of zinc. Zinc is a vital nutrient for the immune system and is also needed for ensuring optimal growth in infants and children. Mushrooms are rich sources of potassium, a nutrient known for reducing the negative impact that sodium can have on your body.
We don’t know how long we will be fighting this virus, but we can be thankful that we have foods that can help us get through it, physically, emotionally and mental. The goal of this article is to encourage us all to take advantage of these healthy foods; to eat well and continue to stay strong, as individuals and as a nation.