Eating disorders have the highest fatality rate of all mental illnesses, and yet, the public and many medical professionals tend to overlook these deadly diseases. Furthermore, when eating disorders do receive attention, often times, stigmas are attached to them.
More often than not, eating disorders are thought to be a “teenage girl problem or phase”, or simply a way to lose weight. However, they do not discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity, or any other factors, and they are a biological brain disorder, not a choice. This is a different way of talking about eating disorders that focuses on what scientists are seeing in their research. This does NOT mean that someone with one of these brain disorders is stuck with this forever or has no hope of recovery. Quite the opposite, it helps researchers to find better treatments and takes away the false blame on parents and societal factors. We are all exposed to similar factors and don’t all develop eating disorders, when our biology is primed these factors can trigger an eating disorder. And with proper nourishment and evidence-based treatment, recovery is possible. The stigmas attached to these life-threatening disorders can prevent those who struggle with an eating disorder from seeking help.
Once stigmas become attached to something, it is hard to break the ideas that surround it.
Eating disorders are no different, but there are ways to reduce stigmas regarding them. The one I believe to be most important is education. Education can help break preconceived notions that the general public may have, and can help alleviate some of the stigmas that greatly affect sufferers and parents. Coach Becky Henry leads classes, workshops and retreats, educating parents and healthcare professionals about these deadly diseases; this in turn helps the cause of bringing awareness to eating disorders. Education is a powerful force that not only helps sufferers, but also helps parents and caregivers to further their understanding of eating disorders and their stigmas.
Another way to help break stigmas is to put eating disorders into perspective. It is estimated that between eight and twelve million Americans suffer from an eating disorder- 90% are women and about 10% are men.
Eating disorder treatment is often hard to come by, no matter what country you are in. In the USA many insurance companies regularly deny treatment for various reasons and in countries with nationalized health care there is often a long wait, limited number of visits and far too often the providers aren’t well trained in eating disorders. This can lead to numerous deaths and severe medical problems in eating disorder patients, and further contributes to stigmas. Again, education is the key to help insurers and health systems to understand that these are very deadly disorders and they are occurring more often than is realized.
Stigmas are greatly prevalent in regards to eating disorders. We would not blame someone for having cancer, nor do we place stigmas upon cancer patients (although there used to be a time that people were afraid to hug someone with cancer). This same idea needs to be demonstrated with eating disorder patients; we should not place blame on them, nor should we place unrealistic stigmas upon them.
To help break stigmas as caregivers and parents, continue to educate yourselves, and spread the word, silence can perpetuate the stigmas. Though it may be difficult, with enough work, stigmas can be broken.