Updated: Jun 20
May is Mental Health Awareness Month! People from many different backgrounds experience mental health problems, and there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health. At Coal Creek Meals on Wheels, we know that mental health is just as important as physical health, and they can both positively and negatively impact each other. Reliable access to food or lack thereof can have a serious impact on both mental and physical health, which is why we provide ready-to-eat meals to anyone in need.
In Boulder County, 11.2% of residents lack reliable access to food, and 13.8% of seniors are food insecure. Despite 33% of people in Colorado being eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, only 9% are currently receiving benefits. Even for those who are receiving benefits, payments have dropped drastically as COVID-era emergency benefits have ended. On average, payments have decreased by $90 per month, with many older adults only receiving monthly payments of $23.
It is proven that having access to a healthy and well balanced diet improves mental health. Particularly, eating a wide variety of foods that are whole foods, or unprocessed foods, can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Adversely, it has been shown that eating unhealthy, processed foods are linked to an increased risk of dementia or stroke. Raising awareness about the connection between nutritious foods and mental health is important in helping individuals to improve their overall wellbeing. Coal Creek Meals on Wheels supports those in need by offering meals, therefore bridging this gap between nutrition and mental health.
According to the CDC, “adults with disabilities report experiencing frequent mental distress almost 5 times as often as adults without disabilities.” Compared to the general population, homebound individuals and seniors are more vulnerable to conditions like depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment. For adults over the age of 60, approximately 15% suffer from mental illness. By providing ready-to-eat meals delivered directly to our clients’ doors, tables, or bedsides, we can ensure they have access to meals to nourish their bodies, which in turn can improve their mental health.
For low income individuals and families, stress from food insecurity can be exacerbated due to financial instability, both which can have long term negative effects on physical and mental wellbeing. Moreover, low income individuals and families often experience many barriers to receiving adequate mental health treatment. By ensuring that older adults, those with disabilities, homebound individuals, low income individuals and families, or anyone in need have access to nutritious food that fits their needs can allow them to focus their time and resources in other areas of their lives, such as accessing mental health resources.
Isolation is another factor that can negatively impact mental health.
Currently, ⅓ of seniors live alone. Along with the mental health impacts, prolonged isolation can also impact physical health. People who are socially isolated or lonely are more likely to be admitted to nursing homes or the emergency room. Social isolation has also been linked to poorer cognitive function and higher risk for dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. The health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and have been estimated to shorten a person’s life span by as many as 15 years. Social connection, on the other hand, has been proven to lower rates of anxiety and depression and increase empathy.
Coal Creek Meals on Wheels serves more than a meal as clients are able to interact with the volunteer who delivers their meal each day. Our volunteers also serve as our eyes and ears, helping to identify other unmet needs with our clients, including the need for mental health services. By sharing information with staff, we can make strategic community referrals to provide well-rounded support for our clients. The Coal Creek Cafe also provides a space for older adults to meet new people and develop long-term relationships with other community members along with CCMOW staff and volunteers. Activities planned by our Client Services Manager exposes clients to new experiences and new learning opportunities, stimulating them mentally, physically, and socially.
Coal Creek Meals on Wheels believes in all aspects of a healthy life, including mental wellness. By providing access to ready-to-eat meals and social contact to anyone in need in Lafayette, Louisville, Erie, and Superior, we are doing our part to support the physical and mental wellness for our communities. Mental Health can be a difficult subject to discuss, but if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, know that you are not alone. For available resources throughout Colorado our across the country, check out links below: