Mental Health – What is it?

Mental health is an individual’s sense of well-being, the ability to function productively in work, home, and community environments, and the ability to cope with the stresses of normal daily life [1]. Mental health is also the ability to control our thoughts and emotions, behaviors, our physical and mental well-being, and to affect our living conditions, social and work environments. You can read more about mental health here.

Mental health is an important part of overall health. Health is not just the absence of disease. Health allows individuals to live long and productive lives. It is a vital resource we have that enables us to function productively in our environment, satisfy core needs, and achieve our goals and ambitions.

Mental Illness or Mental Disorder – What is it?

Mental health problems can cause significant distress or impairment for an individual. In this case we talk of a mental illness or mental disorder. Just like with any other illness, someone with a mental disorder should seek help from a medical professional.

Mental disorders are classified into different categories, based on behavioral and emotional symptoms.

  1. Anxiety disorders
  2. Behavioral disorders
  3. Eating disorders
  4. Substance use disorders
  5. Mood disorders
  6. Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  7. Personality disorders
  8. Psychotic disorders
  9. Suicidal behaviors
  10. Trauma and stress-related disorders

Mental illness is complicated and fragile, and can be brought on or exacerbated by combinations of factors including family history, early childhood challenges, genetics, socio-economic conditions, environmental conditions, trauma, and poor lifestyle.

Rates of mental illness are rising, according to the World Health Organization (WHO): “The burden of mental disorders continues to grow with significant impacts on health and major social, human rights and economic consequences in all countries of the world” It is unclear whether the data trend is due to better detection and diagnosis, changes in environment or genetics, the aging world population and life expectancy, or economic and political stresses.

Impulsivity and Compulsivity

The research done by Eat2beNICE focusses on impulsivity and compulsivity. Maladaptive or uncontrolled impulsivity and compulsivity are part of several mental illnesses, including ADHD, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism. High levels of impulsivity and compulsivity can be very harmful, as they increase the risk for crime, injury and mortality [5].

Impulsivity is defined as “the tendency to act quickly and unpredictably without apparent concern for consequences” [67]. You can read more about impulsivity here. Compulsivity is “the performance of repetitive and functionally impairing overt or covert behavior without adaptive function, performed in a habitual or stereotyped fashion, either according to rigid rules or as a means of avoiding perceived negative consequences” [8]. You can read more about compulsivity here.

Although they seem very different, impulsivity and compulsivity share a profound feeling of ‘lack of control’ and are thought to share similar neural mechanisms that involve the dysfunctional inhibition of thoughts and behaviours [9]. However, we still know very little about how to reduce impulsivity and compulsivity, or protect people from developing these traits in a harmful way. That is why in theEat2beNICE research consortium / we are investigating the role of diet, socioeconomic status and genetics in developing – and preventing – impulsivity and compulsivity problems.

Differences in Mental Health between men and women

There are many differences between men and women, and these are also apparent in multiple psychiatric and socially problematic behaviors including aggression, criminality, drug use, and gambling. When you compare large groups of men and women, men show a slightly higher vulnerability for these behaviors than women: they are more sensitive to rewards and risk-taking, are less able to inhibit their behavior, show a greater preference for immediate instead of delayed rewards, and are more likely to persevere in such behaviors [10].

Because of higher prevalence, maladaptive behavior has been mainly investigated in men, and there is a critical lack of information for women. Furthermore, understanding sex-specific biological factors that play a role in these behaviors may help to improve interventions. We still know very little about sex differences in diet and lifestyle and how dietary intake and lifestyle factors can exert sex-specific effects on behavior. The research of the Eat2beNICE consortium therefore specifically focuses on differences between men and women when investigating how food and lifestyle influence impulsivity and compulsivity.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence of the powerful effects of nutrition and lifestyle on mental health. See our helpful information on Healthy nutrition.

Before specific diets can be used as treatments, they first need to be carefully tested in clinical trials. With the Eat2beNICE research consortium we are focused on ground-breaking research and clinical trials to evidence the relationship between nutrition, lifestyle, and our mental health.