Evidence is beginning to show a clear link between diet quality, nutritional deficiencies and mental health.

Experts say that just like many medical conditions, psychiatry and public health should recognise and embrace diet and nutrition as key determinants of mental health.

It appears that the current medically-focused model has achieved only modest benefits in addressing the global burden of poor mental health.

Leading academics have raised the issue in an article for The Lancet Psychiatry.

“The emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a key factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that nutrition is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology,” said lead author, Dr Jerome Sarris from the University of Melbourne.

The review states that in addition to dietary improvement, evidence now supports the idea that nutrient-based prescription could help in the management of mental disorders at both the individual and population levels.

Studies show that many nutrients have a clear link to brain health, including omega-3s, B vitamins (particularly folate and B12), choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), vitamin D, and amino acids.

Studies have also shown a link between healthy dietary patterns and a reduced rate and risk of depression and suicide, across cultures and age groups.

A review published in late 2014 confirmed a relationship between ‘unhealthy’ dietary patterns and poorer mental health in children and adolescents.

Given the early age of onset for depression and anxiety, the data points to dietary improvement as a way of preventing the start of common mental disorders.

“Maternal and early-life nutrition is also emerging as a factor in mental health outcomes in children, while severe deficiencies in some essential nutrients during critical developmental periods have long been implicated in the development of both depressive and psychotic disorders,” says Associate Professor Felice Jacka, a Principal Research Fellow with Deakin University's IMPACT Strategic Research Centre.

“It is time for clinicians to consider diet and additional nutrients as part of the treating package to manage the enormous burden of mental ill health,” Dr Sarris said.