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Nutrition and Psychological Well-Being: An Integral Part of Clinical Interventions

Clinical Master Class Evening held on 18 November 2013

Nutrition and Well-Being in the Context of the Refugee Trauma Experience

Dr Margaret Allman-Farinelli, MPhilPH PhD FDAA

In this century the global society faces the problem of under nutrition and of over nutrition. The former contributes to communicable disease, and the latter to the non-communicable diseases, with both nutritional states having implications for mental well being.

Refugees are vulnerable to poor nutrition. Provision of adequate food and water is a basic human right. Yet in many refugee camps there remains food insecurity with children and women particularly at risk. The problem is not restricted to inadequate calories and protein – poorer intakes of micronutrients compromise physical function and mental health. It is well documented that inadequate intakes of iron and several B vitamins compromise mental function.

Sadly, for refugees newly arrived in Australia the problem of food insecurity remains as they find themselves in an unfamiliar food environment with the stresses of readjustment and financial challenges. Studies have identified more than half of all refugees experience food insecurity in Australia. In order to assist these new residents we need to understand their food preferences, food beliefs, food customs, cooking skills and experiences, food and health beliefs, and food taboos. Considerable resources may be necessary to enable attainment of good nutrition and remove barriers to food security. A new concern for children is vulnerability to junk foods with higher fat and sugar levels, but poor in micronutrients because of their comparatively low cost and prolific advertising.

Diet/ Nutrition Counselling and its Impact on Psychological Well-Being in the Context of Refugee Trauma

Sivaharani Mayuran

A common symptom and side effect of refugee trauma can be poor appetite. While clients may not identify eating problems themselves, it has been noted that adjustment to diet is a significant factor in both physical and psychological health.

In this presentation, Sivaharani explored the importance of diet/nutrition counselling in the context of refugee trauma, drawing on a case study of a 46 year old Muslim Tamil Sri Lankan asylum seeker client with a history of multiple traumas and human rights violations. He managed to flee and arrived in Australia as an asylum seeker. The client presented with anxiety and PTSD symptoms, which were exacerbated by his intense sense of loss, separation from family, and fear of deportation. In Australia he was diagnosed with hyper cholesterol and diabetes. Sivaharani utilised a Diet/Nutrition Counselling approach which aimed to enhance the client’s psychological well-being and achieve positive therapeutic outcomes.

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