Barcelona snapshots

Prof. Michael Berk

Michael Berk psychiatrist Controversies Psiquiatry Barcelona
Deakin University, Australia
Talk Diet, nutrition, and physical activity in the prevention of mental disorders
Date Friday, September 17th, 2021
Time 12:00 - 12:45
Round Table 3. Affective disorders


Michael Berk is an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow at Deakin University, where he heads the IMPACT institute. He is listed by Thompson Reuters as amongst the world's most influential scientific minds (2015-2020) and was awarded the Brain & Behaviour (NARSAD) Colvin Award for Mood Disorders in 2015, the Victoria Prize for life sciences in 2019 and the International Society for Bipolar Disorders Bob Post award for mentorship in 2020. He is past president of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders and the Australasian Society for Bipolar and Depressive Disorders. His major interests are in the discovery and implementation of novel therapies.


Prevention strategies have made a major contribution to the considerable successes in reductions in cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality. However, in the field of psychiatry, similar population-level initiatives in the prevention of common mental disorders, depression and anxiety, are noticeably lacking. There is a need at a population level for the development of effective universal preventive approaches to the common mental disorders. There has been a recent expansion of research into potentially modifiable risk factors for depression. Diverse lifestyle social and psychological and biological factors contribute to vulnerability. Early childhood trauma and neglect are key risk factors. However, increasing attention has been focussed on potentially reversible lifestyle factors. A major reason is that these are common risk factors for diverse non communicable psychiatric and medical disorders. Diet, physical activity, sleep disruption and smoking have long been recognized as key contributors to the high prevalence non-communicable diseases. However, there are now an increasing number of studies suggesting that similar modifiable lifestyle behaviours are also risk factors for common mental disorders and are thus prevention targets.

This lecture aims to provide an overview of the existing literature on the topic of the prevention of common mental disorders and a commentary regarding the way forward for prevention research and implementation. Many of these biological social and environmental factors are transduced via common pathways that include inflammation and redox biology. The consensus from a large body of evidence supports the contention that interventions to prevent mental disorders across the lifespan can be both effective and cost-effective. While psychological approaches have the largest current evidence base, the potential for lifestyle modification in the prevention of psychiatric disorders has not yet been realised. A critical conceptual issue is that the numerator of benefit which includes the panoply of mental health and noncommunicable physical disorders is offset against a singular intervention denominator. Therefore, common approaches to the prevention and control of mental health and non-communicable disorders are needed that embrace partners across the health sector with diverse clinical endpoints. Addressing the social, psychological lifestyle, medical and biological drivers in an integrated manner has the capacity to reduce the overall burden of disease.