Help People With Eating Disorders Get The Support They Desperately Need

Help People With Eating Disorders Get The Support They Desperately Need

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Kim Marshall started this petition to Sajid Javid MP and

Since the first lockdown in March 2020, eating disorders have increased dramatically, with an estimated 3.4 million people in the UK said to be affected. Beat, the UK’s national eating disorder charity has seen demand for their services increase and, waiting lists for treatment have increased, both by 200%.

Although the target for under 18’s is to receive help within one week for urgent cases, this isn’t always possible and some adults are being told they have up to a 2 year wait.

But what is urgent? Eating Disorders are serious mental health illnesses, they’re not about food or weight. We can’t easily see what’s going on in people’s brains.  Often people are judged on what they look like, in order to be assessed and to determine if it’s an urgent case. This means many people are then forced to become more ill, in order to be taken seriously and get the help they need. By which time, not only is the illness more ingrained, but more support is required at a higher cost to the NHS.

Early intervention is commonly cited as being the best approach but it seems this isn’t happening. Plus, with denial being a major issue for those suffering, often when people finally reach out to their GP’s they may have been struggling for months or years, so it’s important they access help straight away. Plus, left untreated, mental health can often lead to physical health issues which will lead to extra costs, resources and extra pressure on NHS.

What is better than early invention is prevention! Wouldn’t it be great if in schools, aside from English and Maths, it is mandatory to teach children about the importance of talking about feelings, about the need to be kind to others but also to themselves? Often unhealthy coping strategies such as eating disorders arise due to feeling alone, unable to talk to someone and bottling things up.

For patients who are underweight, the current system prioritises the need to gain weight before any emotional support will be given. I understand that the brain needs to be fuelled in order to function however it can be terrifying to eat ‘normally’. Without emotional support, another unhealthy coping strategy may develop such as another eating disorder, addiction or self harm. For long term recovery, the root cause(s) needs to be addressed, not just changing our weight.

GP’s and health professionals need more training and resources, as well as families, employers and teachers who can all play a part in a person’s support. Athough there is some great support out there, unfortunately, I’ve heard from my clients that they’ve received insensitive, ignorant comments, which are extremely triggering. Often it can feel like a postcode lottery regarding help available and usually, a ‘one size fits all approach’ is used.  However just as we all learn differently (auditory, kinaesthetic, visual, etc), we all respond differently to different therapies so a range should be offered. Particularly as patients can be discharged if they do not ‘engage’ with treatment. Would we kick a child out of school in a similar way if they struggled to pay attention in a lesson?

The government may state that they have strategies in place and changes will take place in the future but where does this leave people till then? What are these strategies? Who is responsible for creating these strategies? Is it someone who has experienced living with an eating disorder? Because the latest two schemes of calories on menus and a healthy rewards app have been opposed by Beat and other ED advocates. They may say there’s not enough money but as we’ve seen, the money can be available if they deem it important enough. Aren’t up to 3.4 million people’s lives (children and adults) important enough?

Eating disorders are a mental health issue and very similar to addiction. It’s about control and it’s a way of coping with underlying issues. It’s not a conscious choice but is a temporary solution with long term consequences.

These consequences can result in death. Anorexia has a higher mortality rate than any other mental health issue but those with bulimia and binge eating disorder are also extremely vulnerable. We know about the importance of catching cancer early, as we have a higher survival rate, yet the system today is similar to being told that your cancer has not grown enough so you need to wait.

So I’m calling for:

- An immediate increase in eating disorders support in terms of specialist eating disorders centres, with residential care, day care and outpatient appointments
- Support that tackles the root cause(s), not just weight
- A range of therapies to be offered
- Mandatory training for GP’s and health professionals
- Support for teachers, parents and carers
- Mandatory teaching about well-being in curriculum
- Shutting down of social media accounts that promote unhealthy behaviours

As someone who has recovered from anorexia and bulimia, and who now works with people with eating disorders, I know how crucial support is. It saved my life! When I was struggling with an eating disorder, I felt like I was trapped in a deep dark well with no clue how to get out.  I was exhausted, frightened, full of self loathing and ashamed.  I contemplated suicide several times a day as I honestly felt people would be 'better off' without me in their lives.  It was sheer torture every day.  I'm now completely recovered and I'm so thankful.  

Please sign and share with your friends, family and on social media, and also with your local MP. You may not think you know anyone with an eating disorder, but you can’t always tell. A loved one could be struggling right now. Eating disorders can happen to anyone at any time. They do not discriminate! Thank you!

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