Sadly, stigma about mental illness is still very much alive and kicking. Admirable efforts from charities, the NHS, individuals, social media, the government, schools, researchers, celebrities etc. are, undoubtedly, making a difference (hurrah) but we have a long way to go until we neutralise stigmatising beliefs, and harmful view-points.
Individuals, who have an eating disorder, I feel, have to combat stigma from wider society and from health professionals.
We all know that myths and misinformation surround public (and professional) perspectives of eating disorders.
Eating disorders are caused by the media and are a lifestyle choice rather than a serious mental illness. NOPE.
I could carry on for a whole bunch of time listing and debunking myths, but I am taking a punt and guessing that if you are reading this, you agree with me anyway and if any of this has made you think ‘oh hey, I didn’t know that, cool’ the links above can aid you with a whole load of internet-rabbit holing into eating disorders education.
So, like I mentioned in my first post I became ill when I was pretty young, and I am now kinda-old-ish. Like, properly into adult-ing life phase. I have therefore spent more years chronically ill than I have ‘kinda recovered’. I have been pretty much recovered for five years now. In that I hold down a demanding career as a health professional. I also have friends, and my eating disorder no longer totally rules all my social activities. However, as may be clear from my previous posts it, isn’t all tickety-boo and I still struggle a lot with the thoughts in my head and the distress this causes. Nine months ago I was struggling quite a lot and so my GP suggested a re-referral to an eating disorders service for a top up of all the help I have been privileged to receive previously.
I waited 9 months for the initial screening assessment. The assessment itself was decent. The woman I saw was kind, validating and damn good at her job. She was also, technically, retired. She has returned to her post because there is no-one to cover her role. At the end of the appointment she offered me some more support.
Currently, the waiting list is 12 months.
Which really sucks. I am pretty sure I can toddle on my little way for another 12 months without it having a hugely detrimental effect on my mental health and well-being but this will not be the case for everyone. Eating disorders have the highest mortality of any mental health condition.
This list is not priority based, other than for those in seriously life-threatening situations. And of course, only those deemed needing a referral even end up on this ridiculous waiting list.
Which really sucks. Eating disorders hugely affect quality of life, and mental health and also have numerous potential long term physical complications – even if you are at an ‘okay’ weight and do not ‘look’ like your stereotypical ‘emaciated anorexic’.
A lot is to do with stigma.
Services are few and far between. Training is patchy. I am a health care professional working in mental health services. The training we receive is very comprehensive, aside from when it comes to eating disorders which have been conspicuous in their absence from our curriculum.
People cared for in non-specialist services (which is common due to a lack of such services and poor funding) can often receive ineffective, non-evidence based care due primarily to a lack of education.
Doctors, nurses and all members of an multi-disciplinary team see eating disordered patients, in my experience, as difficult to care for. Despite being recognised by recognised medical indexes as real MENTAL HEALTH CONDITIONS, there is still a feeling that it is simply a ‘choice’ and patients’ needs to ‘just eat properly’.
I am not okay with this.
If I had longer, to add to this already really long blog post I would love to describe some of the brilliant, clever, funny, kind people whom I have met over my years as a patient, and as a professional. I feel this might help a bit to change the perception of the patient community as difficult, angry, sad, no-hopers (and that is prevalent, many times I was told I would never get better, despite the fact part of the role of a nurse is too hold hope for our patients when they cannot envisage it themselves).
I am going to continue combatting this when and where I can. Loudly. Persistently. Hopefully in a way which will eventually incite at least local change.
If you have an eating disorder, please know you are never beyond help, or hope. There are some wonderful, dedicated and brilliant professionals out there.
If you work in health care, mental health or services where you may come across patients with eating disorders please consider how you can help. If you are a student health professional, don’t discount eating disorders services as a challenging but brilliant, worthwhile sector to work in.
If you want to read pretty much what I just said in a more articulate way then read this.
(p.s. If you feel like you have an eating disorder then you might want to click here check out the work the b-eat offer)
(p.p.s. read Alexis’ previous posts here)