This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and this year I’m doing my bit to bust some myths!
Eating disorders are more prevalent in affluent societies
This may be based on the assumption that someone would only deny themselves food, binge or purge food if they had enough.
However research shows that eating disorders occur equally across all levels of income and education.
Hey, Newsflash! Eating disorders are nothing to do with eating or food! An eating disorder is a mental illness, a complex neurological disorder where memories of the past, feed into our emotions and thoughts and lead to behaviours in the present.
If someone is living on the poverty line, they may find themselves spending the little money they have on binge food, they are not making a logical decision, their actions are powered by emotion that feel uncontrollable.
If someone is more affluent, they may have plenty of food. Avoiding food and restricting for days isn’t being deliberately difficult. Their mind is fighting a civil war, trying to figure out which path to take – deciding what to eat when feels complex and all consuming.
The time when affluence makes a difference to an eating disorder sufferer is when seeking treatment. All too often I have heard people needing to find a private therapist because the NHS waiting list is simply too long. Private therapy is way beyond most people’s means. We should be proud of our National Health Service – treatment, free at the point of delivery, for all. But it’s letting a lot of people down because it’s under resourced.
When it comes to mental health services, the resources we need are not fancy machines or expensive drugs, we need trained doctors, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists and psychotherapists. Quality time with these experts is in short supply. The average eating disorder sufferer takes over a year to seek help, waiting lists can then sometimes be a year to 18 months long. Of course, if you’re in crisis, you’ll (hopefully) get help sooner but no one should have to get to crisis point to get the help they deserve.
We know that early intervention is vital for a better chance of full recovery. While it’s fortunate that some people can afford private therapy. It saddens me that people from poorer backgrounds have no choice but to sit on the waiting list. It is not ok that people who have no choice but to wait for therapy are at risk of poorer outcomes.