Shining a light on the link between food insecurity and mental health

World Mental Health Day is acknowledged on the 10 October and for The Salvation Army it brings up the issue of how food insecurity directly affects mental health and how we are fighting to improve this. 

2020 has been a year of many uncertainties, and for 20% of Kiwis, the most uncertain task is how they are going to put food on the table, day after day, week after week. 

The Salvation Army has seen a huge increase in demand for food, and as we look down the barrel of another recession, this will continue to rise. In New Zealand, food insecurity is at an all time high, with tens of thousands of individuals and whanau reaching out to our food banks for food assistance, many of whom have reached out to us for the first time.

“During the initial Covid lockdowns, The Salvation Army saw increasing food hardship and food insecurity for many people and whanau.” says Salvation Army policy analyst Ronji Tanielu. “For example, we noted in our Covid-19 Social Impact Dashboard series that in the week ending 14 April 2020, we distributed just under 6000 food parcels nationally. That is about the same amount of parcels we usually give out in a normal month, that we gave out in one week!”

According to The Ministry of Health, food insecurity can be defined as “a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate or safe foods, or limited ability to acquire personally acceptable foods that meet cultural needs in a socially acceptable way”. So what happens when a fifth of our population fall into this category? 

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many ups and downs to our communities. For some it has given us a chance to take a pause and refocus, but for many it has put a strain on our mental health. 

We know how important it is to ensure that we are physically, spiritually, socially and mentally/ emotionally well and if our hauora is in balance. Hauora is a Maori philosophy of health which comprises taha tinana (physical), taha hinengaro (mental/emotional), taha whanau (social) and taha wairua (spiritual). Each element represents the four dimensions of our self, in order to function at our best we must take care of all four areas. 

Not eating proper food or feeling stressed because of not having enough money for food can really impact our wellbeing, our hauora. This cycle creates a ripple effect on our health, and if we are not accessing adequate and nutritious food, our taha hinengaro (mental wellbeing) takes an enormous hit. 

The most recent State of our Communities report from The Salvation Army’s social policy team found that not surprisingly, job loss, social isolation and a lack of income has a huge impact on the anxiety, stress and hardship that affects people's mental health. Struggling to put food on the table while you have no stable income has to be one of the hardest things that people experience, especially if they haven’t been faced with this before. 

At The Foodbank Project, we are committed to ensuring that no one goes without adequate food that they need to maintain their wellbeing, irrespective of their age, family size and especially not their mental condition. The Sallies will always try to give a hand up for someone who is struggling. We put emphasis on caring for an individual with a holistic approach and we know that something as small as a food parcel can make a big difference. 

We have seen an incredible influx of donations to The Foodbank Project since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, all of which are making a lasting impact on the lives of those less fortunate. However, we expect that this is only the beginning for people needing food assistance as Aotearoa is faced with more uncertainty. The Foodbank Project has been there to support those in need, and we are so grateful for the role you play in this. Every little bit helps in a time of need, and when you make a donation to us or share our project with friends and whanau, you are directly helping Kiwis who need a hand up. 


What to do if you are struggling: 

We know that times are tough and we want to let you know that you are not alone! If you are struggling with your mental health or to provide food for yourself or your whanau, please take a look at the following options:

For mental health support call: 

-Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

-Healthline 0800 611 116

For food and welfare support call:

-The Salvation Army Freephone 0800 53 00 00

Reach out to a friend or family member, take a walk in the fresh air or listen to some music and remember to be kind to yourself.


Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui

Be strong, be brave, be steadfast

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published