Mental Illness, Appetite and Staying Healthy

Mental health disorders are exceedingly common. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), 43.8 million adults in the U.S. will experience mental illness in a given year. That’s 1 in 5 adults. Every year. And 20% of youth (ages 13-18) have a mental health condition. In short, mental illness affects all of us: whether it’s personally, as a parent, child, friend, co-worker or neighbor.

Each mental health disorder is made up of a number of symptoms. Tearfulness, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating are a few examples. What you may not know is that change in appetite can also be a symptom of mental illness.

Some folks struggling with a mental health disorder (like depression, for example) may experience a decrease in appetite, or a decrease in pleasure in food. While others might notice that their appetite increases. Still others might find it difficult to eat healthy amounts of food (too much or too little). Some psychiatric medications can also impact appetite and taste. Taken together, you can see that there are strong ties between food, appetite, nutrition and mental health. Here are a few tips for managing your family’s health:

  • Pay attention to appetite. A day or two of increased or decreased hunger isn’t unusual, but when you notice the changes lasting a couple of weeks or more, it’s time to take note. A call to your (or your child’s) primary care provider is a good idea.
  • Mind your medications. As mentioned above, several psychiatric medications effect appetite and taste. If someone in your family has recently started a new medication, pay attention to what you’re eating – or not eating. Write it down, and let your health care provider know.
  • Ask for help. Mental health struggles can affect any of us. The good news is these disorders are highly treatable. Consider reaching out to a psychologist or other mental health care provider in your community if someone in your family is in need. Need help finding a provider? Try the American Psychological Association.

May is Mental Health Month. Throughout the month, NAMI is raising awareness for the importance of mental health and fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care. Visit for more information.