There’s stacks of information out there – some great and some less so – about self-harm and eating disorders. It’s impossible to cover everything, but here we have all the basics for you, based on what we are most commonly asked about. We’ll continue to update these pages, and blog about different issues from time to time so keep checking back.
– something only teenage girls do
– just cutting
– attention seeking
Adults, men, women, children… self-harm affects people across all society, of all ages, backgrounds, lifestyles; rich, poor, black, white, old, young, of faith and none. All people, self-harm can – and does – affect anyone.
– something experienced only by girls and women
– necessarily all about food
– ‘fixed’ just by eating
It’s estimated at around a quarter of a million people are affected by a diagnosable Eating disorder in the UK (Beat, 2015) and men are likely to make up for around 25% of cases. Similarly to self-harm, Eating disorders can – and do – affect people from all backgrounds, and can begin at any age. Eating disorders can be enduring illnesses that may span many years, or even a whole lifetime, but while that may sound less than hopeful, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that with the right support and treatment, recovery is always possible. It’s thought that almost half of all those experiencing Anorexia and Bulimia will make a full recovery (Beat, 2015) with a significant proportion of other sufferers dramatically improving. There is hope; there is always hope.
Eating disorders may start for any number of reasons. It may be in response to trauma (an accident, abuse, family breakdown, bereavement, loss of job etc) or it may be because of a particular stress (e.g. exams, moving house, getting married, debt etc) or it may have no obvious cause. Eating disorders are often about control, with sufferers finding comfort in being able to control what they eat in lieu of the bigger issue to hand. Patterns of disordered eating can soon spiral to become ‘normal’ for the person concerned, and anything that challenges or disrupts that way of being can be incredibly distressing.
One barrier to asking for help can be the fear of ‘not having a good enough reason’ to have an eating disorder, and therefore be unworthy of support. There can also be a fear of being treated dispassionately or without understanding, while losing control of what’s eaten (or not) and when, as other people get involved.
Recovery can be a frightening prospect for many, but sometimes, having the courage to choose to do the things that scare us most, normally prove to be difficult… but almost always turn out to be the best decisions we make.
We’ll be covering more specifics about eating disorders through the blog looking at some of the more detailed issues – it’s a massive area and impossible to do it justice on just one page so look out for more coming soon.
Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2017 – Early Intervention?
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Binge Eating Disorder
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Asking for help at any age can be terrifying. The worry that you may be judged, or misunderstood, or disregarded weighs heavily, and more often than not, the desire to even accept help can fluctuate, meaning that even if the right person is available it may not be the right time.
I’d argue that this gets more complex as you get older. Asking for help as a teenager is tough enough, but when you’re asking as a parent, or an employee, or spouse it becomes even more of a minefield. I’ve met women too afraid to go to the GP because they assume self-harm means they aren’t fit to parent and risk losing their children (not true), and others who fear their jobs will be in jeopardy (also not true) or that their marriage won’t be strong enough (it will, have faith). For men this is often even more complex, simply because of the gendered bias society continues to project of self-harm and eating disorders – and it has to stop. Boys and men are affected too – of all ages – and when we allow society to forget that, it creates huge barriers for those who want to ask for help.
Here are some suggestions if you want to get some support:
1) Accept the person you speak to may not understand. This is ok. You don’t necessarily need them to understand, you need them to listen and hear what you’re saying. Understanding can come later.
2) Think through what you want. Are you ready to recover? Do you want someone to guide you, or just the space to get used to talking at this stage? It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure, and you may find you change your mind according to what’s happening, but it will help you feel in control if you’re able to articulate what you feel you need.
3) Set some goals. If you’re objective is to ‘be recovered’ or ‘get better’ then you may find it harder to achieve in the long run – being recovered or getting better will look differently for everyone. Decide what it will mean for you and set small, achievable goals along the way so you can measure where you are and what you need.
4) Be prepared for a bumpy ride. We passionately believe that freedom from self-harm and eating disorders is possible for everyone, but we don’t pretend it’s easy. There will be good days, there will be bad days, there will be impossible days and there will be surprising days. Enjoy the highs, and hold on tight during the lows.
5) You may find the help and support of family and friends hugely beneficial, or you may prefer to explore other more formal treatment options. Talk to your GP and see what’s available in your area. The prospect of accessing Mental Health Services can sometimes be daunting, but don’t let it be – just be honest about how you feel with the person you see; it’ll be easier for them to help you if they know you’re struggling to even be there.
Look out for more thoughts coming soon on the blog…
How to Help
First things first: if someone has shared with you that they are struggling with self-harm or difficulties with food, then congratulations – you may be the first person they’ve ever shared that with, so please don’t underestimate how difficult it may have been for them. Equally, you may be the 100th person they’ve chosen to talk to and that is no less of a privilege. Behind every story of self-harm and underneath the distress that food can bring, is a unique and valuable person. It’s easy to get caught up in statistics and what we think should be happening, and focusing on our own frustrations and fears, but park those for just a sec.
Here’s our essential guide to helping someone, be it your child, spouse, friend, neighbour or anyone else…
1) LISTEN. Listen, listen, listen and then listen some more. And when you’re done listening, don’t feel you need to say anything – you won’t have the answers at this stage, and they probably won’t want you to anyway. Let them know you’ve heard them, let them know you’re not judging them, and reassure them that you’re there for them. If you can get this bit right, you’ve already made more of a difference than you think.
2) Don’t panic; it solves nothing. Unless they’re obviously in critical need of medical attention (e.g. having taken an overdose, bleeding etc) then don’t automatically leap in and take control. What do they want? What do they need? What can you do for them that helps to meet those needs? Be led as much as possible, within the normal boundaries of health, wellbeing and confidentiality.
3) Be honest. Don’t understand? Then say so. Not sure how to help? Then tell them. Worried about saying or doing the wrong thing? Then admit it. Feeling out of your depth? Then address it. People appreciate honesty, and if you’re expecting them to be honest with you then it needs to work both ways.
4) Take the rough with the smooth. Just because they want to talk to you today doesn’t mean they will tomorrow. Just because they want to get better today doesn’t mean they still will tomorrow. For them, tomorrow may be a day spent cowering under a duvet too afraid to address even what day of the week it is. And ‘tomorrow’ may last a fortnight, or even a month or more. And that’s ok. Don’t feel rejected or demoralized – the journey to recovery can be long, difficult and involve many duvet days, so be patient.
5) Look after yourself too. Don’t underestimate how challenging it can be to walk through these issues – but don’t be put off by it either. If you’re supporting someone, make sure someone else is supporting you too. Find someone who isn’t involved with the person concerned, someone who can focus on you and give you the space to express how you feel on the tough days when everything feels a bit overwhelming.
These are just the big headings, but we’ll be covering different things in more detail on the blog so keep an eye out. If you have a specific request then drop us an email and we’ll see what we can do: firstname.lastname@example.org