This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week! This year I’m busting some myths!
Eating disorders are only a problem for white people
This may be based on the assumption that other cultural backgrounds may protect against eating disorders, maybe we think having a more close knit family, or having particular moral and ethical views means you’re less likely to have an eating disorder?
Whatever the reasoning for this myth, it’s inaccurate. Clinical research has shown that eating disorders are just as common, if not more common in people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds than in people from white backgrounds.
If a black male in his 20s walks into their GP surgery with low self-esteem and poor body image, more questions need to be asked about eating behaviours, it cannot be assumed he does not have an eating disorder.
We also need to remember that people from different backgrounds may present differently. As hard as this may be to hear, the closer a family is, the more deceptive the eating disorder may need to be to thrive. Eating disorders can be very clever and stay undetected for years, gradually gnawing away at the individual.
There is a lot of shame and guilt involved in eating disorders and the behaviours that come with them. In some cultures, lack of understanding about eating disorders may even lead to disgrace or dishonour.
The brain, just like any other organ can get sick; when the brain is sick, it leads to unusual behaviours, such as eating more or less than our body needs.
It is important factual information is shared so that all people have equal opportunities to access support and treatment. No matter what someone’s ethnic origin, the earlier the receive help, the more likely a positive outcome. With the right support people can recover from eating disorders.
It is Eating Disorders Awareness Week! This year I’m busting some myths!
Eating disorders are a female problem
This is based on the assumption that eating disorders are all about vanity and since girls are subjected to pressure to look a certain way, they will succome to the perils of an eating disorder. There are 2 problems with this assumption:
- Eating disorders are rarely anything to do with vanity – the sufferer may be troubled by their looks but disgust and hatred tend to be the most promenant feelings
- Female bodies are under scrutiny but males suffer peer pressure too – musculature, stature, size, shape – males are “supposed” to look a certain way too.
However, there is a genetic component to developing an eating disorder. Having a predisposition does not mean you will definitely develop one but having this genetic predisposition means only a few environmental triggers need to be present for the eating disorder to emerge. Both males and females can have this genetic predisposition and environmental factors (peer pressure, stress, bereavement etc) may impact the individual at any time.
It’s become a cultural norm to discuss diet, weight loss and body shape. This is unhelpful for our mental health. Our relationship with food should be one of fuel and health – nourishing our bodies should be the norm. Whether we’re male or female it seems no one is immune to the pressure to sculpt our bodies into something they can’t do naturally. While females are pressured to be slim, males are pressured to have specific musculature.
An eating disorder may be triggered by the pressure to change our body but it quickly turns into something more sinister. For some an eating disorder is a way to become invisible, a form of punishment and/or a way to cope with complex emotional distress. The sufferer of an eating disorder may not be able to see their true reflection in the mirror, they may see someone a lot bigger or a lot smaller than they really are – this is a form of body dismorphia and it’s a lot more complex than being a bit vain.
By perpetuating the myth that only females get eating disorders, males who become unwell will feel even more stigmatised and are less likely to seek help.
Just imagine you’re a young man who started exercising to build muscle but because you were under stress you became unwell and became gripped by an eating disorder, you body became smaller and you struggled to find a way out on your own. You realised you might have this “girls disease” – how much worse do you feel now? We need to ensure the word is out there that males suffer eating disorders too – mental illness does not discriminate, it is just that, an illness of the mind.
Welcome to my mini series of myth busting blogs, this one is all about personality disorders. Find links to the others at the bottom, please read and share, we need to break down these inaccurate beliefs in order for people with mental illness to stop being discriminated against.
Let’s set this one straight immediately – Personality Disorders are listed as mental illnesses in the DSM 5 and the ICD 10 – the 2 most widely used diagnostic manuals.
Personality disorders (PD) are unique and highly misunderstood, this leads to people receiving poor treatment and falling through the gaps in services.
Even mental health institutions are getting this one wrong when they say things like “treat patients with enduring mental illness and personality disorder”, this says personality disorders are separate from mental illnesses. This is taken directly from the details of a hospital site:
I understand it’s important to mention it specifically as there are lots of places who would support people with mental illness and complex care needs but would not admit people with personality disorder, however, this would be simple to fix, they could put “…complex care need INCLUDING personality disorder”.
There are 10 classifications of personality disorder which fit into 3 clusters, they each have criteria that must be met in order for the diagnosis to be given. Diagnosis is a complex process of gathering information about the patient’s history and the difficulties they face. Read more about the specifics on this post from Psychology Today.
All too often I’ve seen individuals with this diagnosis fall through the gaps in services; personality disorders are complicated and misunderstood, general community mental health services are not specialised enough and the specialised services are a rarity and (where they do exist) under funded.
A fundamental symptom of personality disorders is a difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships, this includes professional relationships and as such, specialist services with adequately qualified professionals, are vital. (Expecting the community mental health team to support and manage people with personality disorder is like expecting GPS to do brain surgery.)
It is possible for sufferers to manage their condition, it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of support, because the symptoms are so varied and complex but it is possible for individuals to develop a life worth living.
I have seen inexperienced and under qualified professionals see the label ‘personality disorder’ and see this as permission to ignore, give up on or treat the individual badly.
I have also seen people who do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of personality disorder, be given it because their symptoms and behaviour are proving challenging and labelling them as ‘PD’ is an excuse to discharge them from care (and give up on them).
Giving up on psychiatric patients is so far beyond unacceptable, there are no words to express my anger and frustration when I see this.
If the professionals don’t even understand these unique disorders and are seen to give up on their patients, we will never be able to break down the stigma and discrimination that exists with the general public.
We’re making good progress with understanding and accepting illnesses such as depression and anxiety but we’ve got a long way to go for public to understand personality disorders, by sharing blogs like this, we will make more progress.
Myth#1 – Mental illness is a sign of weakness
Myth#2 – Men need to get in touch with their feminine side to show their emotion
Myth#3 – Bipolar is more serious than depression and it’s preferable to have anorexia over bulimia
Myth#4 – If someone harms themselves they’re just attention seeking