28 February 2019

It's time to talk about eating disorders, says mental health trust

This Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Monday 25 February to Sunday 3 March) Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership (AWP) NHS Trust is encouraging anyone who thinks they may have an eating disorder, or is worried about someone who may be displaying symptoms, to start a conversation and seek help.

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses and can affect anyone, no matter their age, gender or background. They include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating, and can be used as a way of coping with feelings or situations that the person feels unable to control.

AWP provides specialist treatment for people with eating disorders. They are highlighting that the earlier support and treatment is received, the greater the chance of recovery.

Dr Lauren Gavaghan, Consultant Psychiatrist in the AWP STEPS Eating Disorders Team, said: "There could be many reasons why someone develops an eating disorder and often they develop as a way of coping with a situation or difficulty. Beginning a conversation can be hugely beneficial as it can be the start of the journey to recovery, which is often long and complex."

Early signs that you or someone you know could be suffering from an eating disorder include:
• Being worried about eating and weight,
• Significant changes in weight,
• Being secretive about food and feeling distressed about appearance.

Carolyn, who has a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa, said: "My eating disorder started in an attempt to deal with overwhelming emotions and the scary unpredictable nature of life, caused by the experience of multiple bereavements. I numbed my thoughts and feelings through self-starvation and over exercise, but this coping mechanism for surviving life quickly spiralled out of control with dangerous weight loss. Anorexia was not only starving my body but also my life opportunities.

"There is often a lot of self-denial with having an eating disorder and this makes it really hard to ask for help. It was only through engaging with STEPs that I was able to accept my eating disorder and with specialist support (STEPs inpatient service and community service) work towards recovery.

"Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) is a great opportunity to be inquisitive and gain knowledge and insight about eating disorders. Hopefully by gaining confidence to have conversations more openly, we can break the unnecessary shame and stigma, and encourage those suffering to seek support earlier."

How to support someone with an eating disorder:
1. Get Active - find out what resources are available. The more you can learn, the more you can help.
2. Get Help - it's rare that eating disorders cure themselves. Evidence suggests that the sooner someone can access specialist help the better.
3. Want To Know - make space to talk about what is going on, be open to hearing fears and anxieties.
4. Value Them - often people feel deeply ashamed by their eating problems; they aren't being silly, attention-seeking or difficult.
5. Get Alongside Them - it will be difficult, but try to see where the other person is coming from, so they are not on their own.
6. Speak Up - you have a right to say how these things are affecting you - but don't expect them to make someone change.
7. Be Prepared - eating disorders are complex illnesses and the path to recovery is never smooth.
8. It's Down To Them - carers can't make someone want to get better. Ultimately it has to be down to the individual concerned to make that choice.
9. Self Care - being a carer can be emotionally exhausting. Take time out to value what you do and give yourself a break.
10. Be Hopeful - people do overcome their eating disorders! Recovery is a reality however far away it feels at times.

Useful links:
AWP's STEPs service

Beat Eating Disorders

Anorexia and Bulimia Care


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