Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Early Intervention Saves Lives

As you may know, the theme of this year’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week is ‘Early Intervention’. I am now fully recovered from anorexia nervosa but I had to go through a lot to get to where I am now. I wanted to take some time to share a couple of my experiences of asking for help and the responses I received.

The first time I asked for help was when I was at sixth form. I told my mum that I was struggling and she came with me to my GP. The doctor weighed me and my BMI was 'healthy'. I don't remember much about what was said during that conversation, but I know that I wasn't poorly enough for real help. I remember that he asked me if I thought I was overweight. I knew I wasn't overweight. I knew my BMI was at the lower end of healthy weights, so I had no idea how to answer this. I now know that he wanted to find out about my body image, but I didn't understand and he didn't get a picture of how unhappy I was. I was referred to a counsellor who was based in my GP surgery, had no idea how to support me as someone with eating difficulties and made me feel worse. I only saw her a few times. I just stopped going and had no follow up.

I moved to Leeds when I was 18 to start professional dance training. During my time there I started to get worried about my eating behaviours again. I went to my GP, thinking I could nip it in the bud. The doctor I saw told me that because I was a healthy weight "nobody would take [me] seriously"

Nobody would take me seriously.

I eventually became too unwell to participate in the classes, which then led to me needing to go back home.

I was referred to the eating disorder service and, later, admitted to hospital. By this point I was really poorly and it took a long time to get to anything resembling recovery.

It makes zero sense to turn people away who are asking for help because they aren't ill enough.

The criteria used to determine poorly-ness is so limited as well. Thinnest does not equal sickest, but professionals still use this to determine who deserves treatment. That is how it feels. When I was turned away from appropriate support, it fed into everything my eating disorder was making me believe. I wasn't thin enough, I wasn't good enough, I didn't deserve help and support.

Maybe if I'd been able to access support and treatment early on, I wouldn't have become as unwell as I did. Maybe it would have been a quicker recovery.

I am grateful for my own experiences. I met my late best friend through eating disorder treatment and many other amazing people through her. Without my experiences, I wouldn't be as passionate about mental health care or be able to support others in the way that I can.

I am lucky that I am able to look back at my experiences and know that maybe 'everything happens for a reason'. However, eating disorders have a huge mortality rate. Not everyone recovers.

'Right now, we are letting people with eating disorders down. They are turned away by the health system, told they aren’t ‘ill’ enough for treatment and are confused about where to turn. This can’t continue.'

Have you ever heard of anyone finding out that they have cancer at an early stage, but were told to come back once the cancer has spread, treatment becoming much more difficult, and their chances of surviving are much lower?

This is the exact experience of so many people with eating disorders.

The evidence is so clear: early intervention is key to a quicker, sustained and full recovery.

Early intervention saves lives.

Waiting for someone to get 'sick enough' costs lives. People are dying and it's not fair. Individuals living with an eating disorder can recover. These deaths are preventable.

The importance of early intervention, and the devastating impact eating disorders have, needs to be recognised.

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