Last week was Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2019, an issue which is reported to affect 125 million people in the UK alone. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or any other characteristic.
The latest version of the Diagnostic Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders cites the main, but not only, eating disorders as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Many eating disorders develop during adolescence, but it is not at all unusual for people to develop eating disorders earlier or later in life.
Eating disorders can become severe and last for many years, having a hugely debilitating effect on the affected person and their families and friends. The sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full recovery. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. Bulimia is associated with severe medical complications, and binge eating disorder sufferers often experience the medical complications associated with obesity. In every case, eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of the person and those that care for them.
You can’t always tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Eating disorders are mental illnesses so it is someone’s thoughts, feelings and emotions that are involved. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes and not everyone affected will be very underweight or even ill-looking. People with eating disorders do not choose to be ill, and they are not trying to seek attention. They can find it very difficult to believe that they are ill, and equally hard to acknowledge it once they do know. This is one of the most challenging aspects of how the illness affects someone’s thinking and behaviour.
Eating disorders are treatable and full recovery is possible. There can be serious long-term consequences to physical health if the conditions are not treated quickly. Some people do develop a long-term or recurrent eating disorder, but treatment is improving all the time. It is important to consult a GP as soon as possible if you think that you may have an eating disorder. If you’re concerned that a family member or friend might have and eating disorder, it can be difficult to raise the issue with them. You may worry you’ll say the wrong thing, that it’s none of your business, or that you’re insulting the person. Remember that eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and are not the person’s fault.
Often people with eating disorders deny or don’t realise that there is a problem, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not ill. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy, and countless people who are in recovery agree that breaking the silence is the right thing to do, even if they didn’t feel that way at the time. The sooner someone can get treatment, the greater their chance of a full and sustained recovery. There are support organisations who can offer advice or guidance on broaching and handling the subject, and what to do next, if you are going to offer support to someone who you think may have an eating disorder.
Call us at Healthwatch Essex on 0300 500 1895, text us at 07712 395 398 or email [email protected] and we will be happy to help you.
Information & Signposting Lead