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Food and Mood – Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition

CLARE CARRICK

Online Course through Deakin University and FutureLearn

In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, many of us will find ourselves with a lot more time in our homes. If, like me, you have spent the first few weeks of social isolation incessantly scrolling through social media and the grim news updates, you may be starting to feel like there’s a more productive way you could be spending your time. ‘Food & Mood: Improving Mental Health Through Diet and Nutrition’ is an online course that guides you through the latest research on Nutritional Psychiatry. With flexible hours, beautiful graphics, and evidence-based content, I can highly recommend (and have already!) the course to anybody who eats food (everybody), and cares about their mental health.

I completed the Future Learn course at the end of 2019 to supplement my degree and extend my knowledge of Nutritional Psychiatry before beginning an internship at the Food & Mood centre in February of this year. As someone who has completed their entire nutrition degree online through Deakin University, I have a lot of experience with online education and I found this Food & Mood and Future Learn collaboration impressive in all aspects. Below, I have listed my favourite things about the course.

Evidence-based

Nutrition ‘information’ is rife on social media and, very often, the source of the information is questionable. Nutrition science is complicated and confusing, and it can become dangerous when unqualified individuals promote misinformation regarding diet and health. The Food & Mood course is developed and run by leaders in the field of Nutritional Psychiatry research, so you can trust that the information you are being taught is evidence-based and has been peer-reviewed.

Dr Tetyana Rocks (lead educator) – Doctor Tetyana Rocks is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Head of Translation and Education at the Food & Mood Centre. Tetyana is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about public health.

Professor Felice Jacka Professor Felice Jacka is Director of the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University, and President of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research.

Throughout the course we are also introduced to other members of the Food & Mood centre providing information in their particular field of study, such as the human microbiome or nutraceutical research. Sources are readily available for further reading, and a unit in Week Two, titled ‘Evaluating the Evidence: How to do your own research’, guides you through five key aspects to consider when evaluating your own research, an invaluable skill for anyone.

Hot Topics

These days it’s almost impossible to read the news or check out social media without having nutritional information (be it fact or fiction) shouted at you from every angle. Gut health, microbes, personalized nutrition, inflammation, the gut-brain axis…these topics are hot right now, and rightly so. With diet-related disease being the leading cause of premature death in middle- and high-income countries, and mental illness the leading cause of disability worldwide, the now known impact of diet on mental health should be considered essential knowledge for everyone. This course explains the scientific evidence, explains the mechanisms by which diet effects mental health, and unpacks the evidence concerning what constitutes a healthy diet.

Interactive and Motivating

One thing that really amazed me whilst completing this course was the interactivity between the lead educator, Dr Tetyana Rocks, and the students. The final task for each step involved each student commenting in a public forum on a related task or question. Dr Rocks gave feedback throughout, and other members of the online community were also encouraged to comment, which deepened my understanding of each topic whilst creating a supportive online learning community. Reading the other students’ responses to the task also gave a great cross-sectional perspective on the effect that people’s different backgrounds have on their own experiences of health. The first run of the course demonstrated its appeal to individuals from all backgrounds: psychiatrists, dietitians, GPs, and many others who have an interest in the topics due to personal or professional reasons. The list of topics for each week was easy to follow and made it very clear where you were up to when logging back in after a break. Each week was concluded with a quiz to test your knowledge, with the option of a paid upgrade to receive a certificate of achievement.

Accessible and Attractive

This course is science-based and accessible. It explains potentially complicated concepts in simple and helpful ways, whilst still managing to cover a great deal of material in just three weeks. Mixed media keeps the course interesting, with a combination of video interviews, links to scientific journal articles, quizzes, mood boards, comment streams, and attractive graphics.

The Food & Mood online course has given me a taste for extra-curricular online study. Obviously the topics surrounding diet and mental health are of great interest to me personally, given my current studies and chosen career path, however I honestly believe that this course offers valuable information to every single person, no matter what they do or who they are. Nutritional Psychiatry is a relatively new area with such big potential for assisting the prevention and treatment of two of the world’s biggest issues, diet-related disease, and mental illness. It has immediate relevance for individuals, families, health professionals, and for policy-makers everywhere.

*The next run of the online course will commence on 4 May 2020.

Clare Carrick is undertaking her Health Science Practicum at the Food & Mood Centre as part of Deakin Bachelor of Health Sciences (majoring in Nutrition and Health Promotion).