Lincolnshire

Ali Young: Eating Disorders Awareness Week is just the start – there is still a stigma, and we need to change that

More than 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders and this number is rising. There are more deaths from eating disorders than any other mental illness, and it is estimated that 10% of all sufferers will die as a result of their condition.

Eating disorders are so much more than a preoccupation with controlling body weight, shape or size. They are a serious mental health condition and while attitudes towards them are changing, a lot more can be done.

This month, Eating Disorder Awareness Week takes place from February 27 to March 5, and is a great way to help further remove the stigma that comes with the condition.

Having battled and overcome anorexia myself, I know only too well just how bad things can get.

When you have a setback and feel at your worst, things be can very difficult not just for yourself, but for the ones who care about you most.

Being a male with an eating disorder can be hugely emasculating – I found it very difficult to open up and talk about it, in fear of the embarrassment and shame.

After all, anorexia is stereotypically viewed as a ‘teenage girl’ problem, but really it can affect anyone.

We always stress to patients the importance of conversation, and we will always ensure their voice is heard.

I was fortunate enough to be living in Lincolnshire, to have access to some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated healthcare professionals in the country. I have lived elsewhere and there was nothing like we have here.

Whilst everyone’s recovery will be different I am certain you can recover fully. Having overcome my own personal battle, I volunteered and have since become a paid employee at LPFT, now part of a countywide service for both men and women over the age of 17 and a half years.

We help patients experiencing anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa with a range of assessments and treatments.

We are open to the latest research and ideas and will tailor our service to match the specific needs of patients. The community service we provide is not matched by many other trusts in the country, and that flexibility and willingness to adapt to the routines of each patient is vital in ensuring they are able to live their day-to-day lives.

Our team of specialist nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and support workers run intensive support programmes with behind-the-scenes help from our team of medical secretaries.

The programmes can include cognitive behavioural therapy sessions which look to uncover the reason behind the eating disorder.

An eating disorder can give an individual a distorted perception of reality therefore we also run regular day programme sessions on exploring coping strategies, distress tolerance, how to cope with weight restoration and the practicalities of daily living both within, and external to, an eating disorder.

People’s body insecurities can often be hard to treat, so we look to rebuild self-esteem and self-confidence of each individual.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week encourages early diagnosis – the further along a patient is, the more dangerous it is to their health.

Vital organs such as the kidneys and heart can suffer and bones can become more brittle. Bulimia can involve regular vomiting after eating, but also includes binge eating.

Whilst severe weight loss is a key symptom to look out for, it is important to remember people with eating disorders will often be in denial and will fabricate excuses, particularly where food is concerned, so be wary of any changes in personality as well.

Admitting the problem is often the hardest part anybody developing an eating disorder will ever have to face. It is hugely important if you feel you are showing signs of an eating disorder or know someone who is, to make an appointment with a GP as soon as possible.

If our service isn’t appropriate for an individual we would always signpost them to the relevant service which best meets their needs – no matter how far along they are.

It is vital we deliver the right levels of education to help families and friends provide the best support for their loved ones.

Many of those closest to me now will say how they felt they were treading on eggshells in fear of saying the wrong thing. We run regular carers’ workshops to allow those affected to voice their worries and concerns, as well as giving them the opportunity to actually speak to others who have gone through, or are going through, a similar situation.

We visit universities to give talks on the severity of eating disorders and mental health in general. After all, just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

If we all promote and talk about the support available for people with eating disorders, I am confident we can continue to deliver an outstanding patient-led service.