The Real Experts on Eating Disorders
1.6 million people in the UK suffer from an Eating Disorder. That’s over half the population of Wales.
It’s also almost definitely a massive underestimation; secrecy comes hand in hand with living with an Eating Disorder so many cases go undetected. Many others slip through the net due to mis-diagnosis, naivity and quite simply, a huge and disappointing lack of understanding.
The statistics may be unreliable, but we know for a fact that there has been a huge increase in children developing serious problems with food and weight, a rise in males suffering from a range of Eating Disorders and more older people being diagnosed and treated for Anorexia, Bulimia and other related mental illnesses. It can be argued that numbers are rising as a result of (finally) a shift in the way we feel and talk about such illnesses; if the stigma surrounding saying “I’m Bulimic, I need help” is decreasing, then perhaps it is just a case that more people are able to confront their problem rather than hiding it. I think we have a mixture of both, and it is an amazing thing that we’re moving towards a more open and honest approach to Eating Disorders – but we’re far from perfect and I know for a fact that there are still tens of thousands of people wasting years of their lives to an illness which could and should have been either prevented or detected early enough to treat more successfully.
Now, no matter how we look at it, there is more demand for treatment at a time when the coalition government cuts mean that funding for services is being slashed, NHS reform is causing confusion, instability and uncertainty, and GPs continue to pass off early symptoms of Eating Disorders as “just a phase.” That phase too often develops into a year, a decade, and for many, death.
A tiny lump in a breast or testicle is treated with immediacy. Dodgy looking moles are whipped off and tested within weeks. No doctor in their right mind would wait until a tumor reached the size of a tennis ball or until a melanoma turned malignant. Why play the waiting game with a mental illness? The outcome is the same. The longer the illness is left untreated, the more severe and ingrained it will become and the harder (and far more expensive) it will be to treat. Hear that Cameron?
As an ambassador for B-eat, the UK’s largest Eating Disorder charity, I attended a training day yesterday with other young people who have suffered, or are still suffering with an Eating Disorder. Together, we had one focus – how to must successfully raise awareness of Eating Disorders and make it known to others that they can be beaten. B-eat Young Ambassadors work with the media, MPs, schools and other organisations and campaign for changes not only in the way people perceive this kind of mental illness, but to challenge the way different people deal with them and suggest what could be done to improve the, let’s face it, pretty depressing situation we find ourselves in.
I am increasingly aware that I and all the other amazingly energetic and inspirational ambassadors can give presentations and arrange workshops and PSHE discussions with school children or preach about recovery to a groups of inpatients until the cows come home, but to really have an impact we need to address a much wider audience.
It’s the teachers, the dinner ladies, school nurses, social services, dance teachers, swimming coaches, parents and right at the top, GPs.
We are the experts.
We may be young, it may feel condescending to be spoken to by someone more than half your age and we may not have medical degrees (though a surprising number do), but what we do have is experience and passion. We have been there, gone through hell and possibly still are – but we will do anything we can and go to the ends of the earth to try to prevent others from having to do the same.
I constantly moan and preach and speak of my frustrations at peoples’ lack of understanding – but I do that sitting on a massive brown beanbag with a brew and a sherbert Dib Dab. Yesterday’s meeting lit a bit of a fire inside me. I love to write but I also need to do.
It seems daunting, approaching GPs and groups of teachers asking them to swap roles and allow me to teach them – but it feels like this is the way forward. We are told that we learn from experience, so even the most intelligent consultant psychiatrists in the world can learn from us if they themselves have never walked in our shoes.
This week I am going to be writing to a number of groups, organisations, schools and MPs to put forward my ideas, but it would be really helpful for me if anyone who is reading this could have a bit of an input. What do people need to learn? If you suffer or have suffered with an ED, how would you prefer the subject to be approached by teachers, GPs etc? I would also love to hear from anyone working in the medical profession who could give me an insight into what kind of training is available etc?
Thank you, and I’ll keep you up to date!
Tagged in: anorexia, beat, bulimia, eating disorders, mental health, nhs
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