The theme for 2019’s Eating Disorders Awareness Week was stereotypes. Being a mental health advocate I was aware of the basics of EDs and the stigma that comes with them. But I was appalled at how many barriers to entry there were to seeking help for them here in the UK and today’s blog will look at what shocked me the most.
This blog includes descriptions of eating disorders that some readers may find distressing. Support is available via Beat 0808 801 0677 or the Samaritans 116 123.
Last week was Eating Disorders Awareness Week (#EDAW2019), held by Beat – The UK’s eating disorders charity.
I always like supporting these events. As a mental health advocate, I like being able to bring light to specific mental health conditions, not just mental health as a general thing.
But I need to be honest
I’ve never had an eating disorder. I’ve known a few people who have, but I’m certainly not in the best place to talk about them. So instead, as a personal blog, I’ll be discussing my own awareness and what I’ve been learning throughout the week.
So I’m going to talk about my own awareness
The theme for the week was stereotypes. Being a mental health advocate, I’m aware of the basic things such as the symptoms, treatments and possible causes of bulimia and anorexia. And of course, I was aware of some of the stigma that comes with having any mental health problem.
But last week raised my awareness of a few more barriers to treatment that people with eating disorders have to go through. I found the ‘double whammy’ most startling.
So people first have to suffer an eating disorder. And then struggle to get help.
I’m ashamed to admit that people were unable to get help because they didn’t look thin enough, and in the case of LGBTQ+ people, this was blamed on their sexuality.
So people first have to suffer an eating disorder. And then the disbelief.
Having spent last week immersing myself in the eating disorder community I have realised that I significantly underestimated the hardships that came with having one. The statistics Beat published about this really hit me hard.
For me, seeing that 37% of LGBT+ people said they would not feel confident in seeking help as compared to 24% of straight people. That’s a 13% difference. And I had no idea it existed.
But this is two-fold. 24% of people, nearly a quarter, don’t feel confident to seek help at all. Without seeking help, the journey of eating disorder recovery can be so much harder, nearly impossible.
There are two many perceptions about eating disorders that need to change. And this comes down to two things: education and awareness.
Growing up, I was only aware of two eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia. But that’s not true. The NHS list three common eating disorders(and two other categories).
Sometimes, myself included, we focus more on mental health conditions we have experienced, such as anxiety and depression. Chances are you would know someone who has had one of these. But because eating disorders are not always shown, talked about, or diagnosed as frequently.
I haven’t really spoken about eating disorders at all on the site. But that needs to change. Instead of speaking about the usual anxiety and depression, this week has taught me most to be more encompassing to all mental health conditions.
We need to improve treatments for eating disorders. We need to reduce the stigma, especially the feeling that they are measured on weight. See Hope Virgo’s #DumpTheScales.
To make these changes we can’t just leave it down to the people who have eating disorders. We may feel that people with eating disorders are in a better place to advocate and bring change, but that’s not true.
People with eating disorders are great at sharing their story and inspiring and helping others. But there are campaigns and messages that can be shared.
We can all be mental health advocates. Sharing my story about eating disorders, even without never experiencing it, still makes a difference.
You can do the same.
By Jake Symons
Jake Symons is an entrepreneur and passionate mental health advocate determined to share his story to help others. Alongside writing on this blog he hosts Mental Monday: Mental Health Live a biweekly intimate and unscripted conversation about mental health.