Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Eating Disorder Awareness Week

This week marks a national effort to raise awareness about eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. This sensitive topic is not often spoken about openly and I think this may be due to a lack of general understanding about what it means to have an eating disorder and failure to comprehend that it is a mental illness, severe and deserving of the numerous efforts to help sufferers. It is really striking that anorexia accounts for the highest number of deaths out of all mental illnesses.

The trouble with mental illness can be that it is not always obvious that a person needs help and there is an old-fashioned misconception that there needs to be blatant visual evidence for something to be wrong. This is clearly wrong. There is a lot more to eating disorders than just physical appearance. There are complex intricacies involved which need careful attention to remedy.

The charity BEAT's slogan for this week is "everybody knows somebody", reflecting the statistic that eating disorders are found in 6.4% of adults (Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, 2007) and 1.6 million people in the UK. Often it is difficult to know how to help a sufferer and I am by no means anywhere near an expert on the issue but think it is important that certain misconceptions are dispelled which may help with trying to understand the point of view of a sufferer.

For example, recovery is a long and difficult process which, on average, can last 6-8 years with relapses. It is not just something that goes away overnight, nor is it a choice in the first place. However, during the recovery period, the fact that a sufferer is eating or has put on weight does not mean that they no longer have an issue or no longer need support.

I have come across a couple of websites/blogs which do a great job of painting a clearer image of what it is really like to have an unhealthy relationship with food to the extent that they suffer from an eating disorder. These include tobehonest.org.uk and raisingawarenessuk.blog.com. I find it sad that some think that a person needs to be a certain weight to have an eating disorder and indeed a tragedy that health resources do not stretch to all sufferers.

Charities like BEAT and Anorexia and Bulimia Care exist for the purpose of helping sufferers and their families, running support groups, providing information to the public and campaigning to raise the profile of efforts to tackle eating disorders. This Thursday (14th) Caroline Nokes MP will be speaking in the House of Commons with the aim of raising awareness of eating disorders. You can find out more at www.b-eat.co.uk

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