RDNs in Mental Health

RDNs in Mental Health

Ruth Leyse-Wallace PhD, Retired Clinical Dietitian Mental Health Resource Professional (3/2016)


Where services are provided

RDNs in Mental Health commonly practice in psychiatric hospitals, in psychiatric units within general hospitals, in out-patient programs of hospitals, and in community mental health clinics. They may also provide nutritional care through their own private practice or by associating with a group practice. Privately owned businesses or organizations may also employ an RDN specializing in mental health.


Typical populations served

Nutrition practice in Mental Health serves both male and female populations from adolescence, to adulthood, to the elderly. Psychiatric diagnoses range from anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, dementia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and any of the many disorders listed in the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Individuals admitted with suicidal, violent, or psychotic behavior are referred to the dietitian only after their mental status and behavior is stabilized and calm. Patients with comorbidities of alcohol and/or substance abuse and eating disorders are included in populations served by clinical dietitians in psychiatric hospitals. Combinations of physical health issues may occur along with a mental health concerns. For example, a woman with major depression may be pregnant and have a history of bariatric surgery and dependency on a prescription drug, requiring a broad range of nutrition knowledge. Individuals with mental health concerns are seen in any health care facility, renal dialysis unit, exercise/sports facility, etc, and may request, or be referred to, a clinical dietitian.


Typical work and involvement with other professionals

RDNs provide nutritional assessments, interventions, documentation of care, staff training, individual patient counseling and patient group education. They attend team meetings, work with food service for necessary special diets/ snacks, and meet with family members when requested.


The practice of clinical dietetics in mental health includes working with medical teams that include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, pharmacists, mental health technicians, substance abuse counselors, activity therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, wound care specialists, medical records staff, food service administrators and food service staff.


Recommended or required education and experience

Education specific to mental health is included, but not extensively, in the internship experience for RDNs. Coursework in psychology, and counseling methods are helpful for working in Behavioral Health. Additional psychiatric-specific knowledge is acquired through professional networks, mentors, and reading the literature. Practice in mental health may include a multitude of physical health conditions which benefit from nutrition care. Adequate nutrition is increasingly demonstrated to influence mental status.