Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2017 – Early Intervention?
Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2017 – Early Intervention
The focus of #EDAW2017 is to highlight the need of early intervention for those developing an eating disorder, and while this is absolutely worthwhile, it frustrates me beyond measure that we have to fight to make this happen; that it has to be worked for rather than just a given.
If someone was on the brink of having a heart attack or falling into a diabetic coma, no one would suggest we just stop and wait a while to let them become more unwell before reaching out and intervening, using the unlikely ‘it might get better by itself’ rule of thumb to justify not acting. No. Any paramedic you’ll ever meet will say chest pain or collapse doesn’t warrants a 999 call, but rarely is swift intervention the case for those on the edge of an eating disorder – Anorexia remains the leading cause of death of all mental health conditions, but treatment often (if ever) only begins when the road back is longer than it needs to be. We need the 999 equivalent of seeing the signs and responding straight away.
I wasn’t blessed with an experience of early intervention. Back in the day, treatment for an eating disorder was even less available than it is now. I recall seeing a GP when I was 15 – I was honest about what I was doing, but his summary was that my ‘weight was fine’, and I should ‘probably just go home and eat’. Gee, thanks Mr GP.
What that did was send me a message that I wasn’t thin enough, that I needed to make myself more ill before help would be available. It told me that sufferers of anorexia are more likely to be accepted into treatment because they have the low weight trump card, so as a normal-weight sufferer of bulimia I didn’t have the grounds to even be asking. It (very wrongly) made me believe those of us with bulimia were ‘failed’ anorexics, which heaped more shame onto my shoulders. It stopped me from asking, and when I did ask, it stopped me from believing I could ever change. It’s hard (& pretty painful) for me to try and imagine how things might have been different if that GP had taken me seriously, listened and referred me for CBT – I might’ve stopped the decay before the decay finally got me.
So yes- 20 years on, it makes me so angry that we’re still in the same cycle, with countless people waiting for their eating disorder to grown and infect every part of their lives before help and support is available. Rather than long to be better, I used to long for anorexia instead, as that genuinely seemed the fastest and most logical route into treatment – and it almost worked, but alas, my BMI didn’t dip quite low enough.
There isn’t an endless pot of public money available to pump into mental health services – I get that – but how many more lives need to be disrupted, damaged or lost before we develop a culture of prevention & early intervention, rather than waiting to hand out the cure once someone is ‘ill enough’ to meet full diagnostic criteria?
I pretty sure a course of CBT when I was 15 would’ve proven a heck of a lot cheaper to fund than what I finally cost the NHS in hospital beds, community nurses, outpatient appointments, psychiatrists, prescriptions… and not to mention the housing benefit, sick pay and unemployment in early adulthood – and of course the cost to my health, relationships and mental health. Tell me again, Mr GP, that all I needed to do was take my normal-weight body home and have some dinner.
I don’t want to be writing this again next year. I don’t know the solution when it comes to making early intervention more readily available, but I definitely have a gut-wrenching, angry grasp of the problem.
If you know someone who needs early intervention – please don’t give up asking.