Deakin research provides food for thought

October 15, 2020 BY

Deakin University and Barwon Health are partnering to research the importance of diet and exercise in treating COVID-19 related depression.

The research centres on a ‘CALM’ program Deakin University researchers created. It involves an eight-week, group-based, telehealth trial with Barwon Health’s Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Services (MHDAS) which aims to reduce mental health symptoms adults experiencing elevated psychological distress.

Research lead and director of Deakin’s Heart and Mind Research associate professor Adrienne O’Neil said evidence suggests there should be a greater emphasis on the role of diet and exercise in people’s mental health.

“Lifestyle targets are the cornerstone for prevention and management of diabetes and heart disease, but not currently for mental disorders,” Prof. O’Neil said.

“There is good evidence diet and exercise can complement standard care, but we don’t know if they are as good as standard psychological care.

“This is the first study to test this approach directly with psychotherapy in a real-world mental health setting. This evidence is critical if we are to see lifestyle-based care become an embedded part of mental health care in the future.”

The effectiveness of the CALM program will be measured in comparison with established psychotherapy in 184 patients presenting to Barwon Health emergency or MHDAS.

The research is being funded through the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund COVID-19 Mental Health Research.

Prof. O’Neil said the pandemic made the research particularly important.

“We know the mental health of Australians has deteriorated since the COVID-19 outbreak, especially for young people and women who have been overly represented in job losses and overburdened with childcare.”

Prof. O’Neil said CALM’s accessibility and affordability suggest the program has significant potential.

“In Australia, we spend $9.9 billion on mental health services every year. In Geelong, we have seen mental health-related presentations spike over the past three years,” she said.

“CALM aims to provide a mental health program that is easy to access through existing mental health services and is cost-effective.

“We hope this will provide future treatment options for people with mental health concerns.”