Eating disorders overlooked form of mental illness

by | Feb 6, 2015 | Life

Christine Tippett

Life Reporter

Eating Disorder Awareness Week is just ending its run tomorrow, but advocates have yet to see significant changes in society’s understanding of the problem.

For Wendy Preskow, it’s personal. Her daughter has struggled with anorexia and bulimia for more than 14 years.

The devastating effects from the lack of treatment for those suffering from eating disorders drove Preskow to create the National Initiative for Eating Disorders in 2012. The organization is crusading to bring awareness to eating disorder sufferers and their families.

Eating disorders are a form of mental illness, but people don’t think of them as that , and as a result they are often ignored, Preskow said.

“There are still many myths and many professionals in the frontline who need educating,” she said. “If we can continue to think of eating disorders as mental illnesses, that is a huge part of bringing awareness.”

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry. As well, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre estimates 10 per cent of individuals with anorexia die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder.

“A big part of it is the stigma. It’s such a secretive disease and people can hide it for years and years,” Preskow said. “If there was more awareness and resources, students would feel they could go get help and talk to someone.”

Carly Crawford, a psychotherapist and survivor of anorexia, said it’s best to approach someone who may be suffering from an eating disorder by providing them with information or someone they can speak to.

If someone is in denial or unwilling to get help, the best method is to give them continued support, Crawford said.

It’s better to approach someone who may be suffering from an eating disorder sooner rather than later as well. There is a big difference in recovery if sufferers receive treatment within the first year, said Crawford.

Humber College offers free counselling to students but Humber counsellor Liz Sokol said most students are unaware of the services or forget they’re available.

Sokol understands it is often difficult for students to come in for counselling.

“Like any other issue, people are ashamed,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage for students to come through the door.”