Between 24th February and 2nd March it’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week, run by the national charity B-eat. The week aims to raise awareness and understanding of eating disorders, and challenge the stereotypes and stigma around them.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses; a fact, which I believe, is often not recognised or appreciated. They need to be understood as such – they claim more lives than any other mental illness.
In mruk’s research on mental health in young people ‘Talking Taboos – ‘talking self-harm’, eating disorders were identified as an issue that people would be highly concerned about, but were not comfortable in dealing with. This is clearly troublesome as being able to admit the problem and talk to others is a key step in recovery. We need to create a more comfortable attitude around the subject.
1.6 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, that’s 1 in 39 people or 2.6% of the population. This is far more common than most people realise, yet there is a stigma around them, and I often hear them being misunderstood as a choice, a phase, a case of vanity. We have to correct these misconceptions, we’ve got to show eating disorders to be the mental illnesses they are, causing real damage and real distress to the sufferer and their families. They do not have one simple cause. Rather a complex combination of factors contribute, including genetics, biochemistry, psychology, culture and environment. This makes treatment a difficult process, but it is available and full recovery is possible.
It’s known that the earlier treatment is received, the better the outcome. Recent research by B-eat has revealed that a significant proportion of people have had to wait far too long for treatment, often due to their condition not being ‘urgent’ enough for quick access. This delay in treatment can be crucial, and can have a seriously damaging, if not tragic, effect on sufferers and their carers.
How can those suffering possibly be left with no treatment, only receiving help when their health is at a critical stage? The fundamental issue is that mental health conditions are not treated with the same urgency as physical conditions, with no agreed maximum waiting time limits, as yet, for mental health treatment. This clearly needs to change.
Eating Disorders Awareness Week is really important in raising awareness and reducing the stigma. If it can create an overall better understanding in society, it will create a better outcome for those who suffer from this serious mental illness. And for that reason I’m right behind it.