With today’s rising awareness around mental health disorders, it is no surprise that there are more and more talk about eating disorder awareness and the lack of eating disorder training that’s available.
Whilst many people assume that eating disorders are only a “fad diet” gone wrong, we know from research that they are in fact much more than this. Eating disorder are a complex reaction to difficult emotions and difficult life events a person may have experienced. They are a very real, sometimes life threatening mental health disorder.
So, how can we increase eating disorder awareness? Well, it is important to know that eating disorders can affect any one, at any stage of life and any gender. Eating disorders are often still seen as a “woman’s illness”, but women are not the only ones affected. Specifically, the number of males suffering from eating disorders is continuously on the rise. Eating Disorders also come in very different forms and symptoms can often vary between those affected.
Anorexia Nervosa is one of the better-known eating disorders and is associated with restricting your diet in an attempt to lose weight. It comes with an intense fear of gaining weight and often means those suffering from it are consumed with ideas about food. But is that all it is? Whilst eating disorders are often concerned with body image and weight, sufferers also struggle with other difficulties such as anxiety or low mood. This means that the eating disorder becomes a way of managing difficult emotions and regaining control over difficult situations in that person’s life – A lot more complex than just a “diet gone wrong”! Sadly, Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental health illness, which is why it so important that we talk about eating disorder awareness and training.
Eating disorders affect 1.2 million people in the UK, with a quarter of those being male. Despite these figures, there is limited knowledge amongst non-clinicians and the public about eating disorders and how to support people struggle with an eating disorder. Non-healthcare staff working at the frontline of services may be the first point of contact for someone struggling with an eating disorder. This may include, for example, school nurses and counsellors, teachers, and university pastoral care services. This places a great responsibility on frontline staff to be able to recognise when there is a problem and to provide appropriate support. Because of this, Maudsley Learning has designed the course Foundation skills in Eating Disorders which aims to increase people’s skills and offer tips on how to start a conversation with someone who you are worried about and the know-how to decide when and where to signpost to support services.
Even as healthcare professionals we often shy away from the complexity that eating disorders present. This is often because we are unsure how to understand the different eating disorders, how to manage risk, and where to signpost for specialist help. Maudsley Learning has designed an eating disorder training course with this in mind: Eating Disorders Training for Healthcare Professionals. This course is delivered by expert clinicians and will give learners an in-depth understanding of eating disorders and an approach to recognition and assessment.
Opening up the conversation around eating disorders or disordered eating (often the forerunner to an eating disorder) in our schools, universities and workplaces is key. It reduces the stigma and shame associated with it, and can really help improve the speed at which care is received and therefore the effectiveness of treatment.