This week is Mental Health Week, an important reminder to all Australians that we need to continue to raise much needed awareness about mental health, and to promote social and emotional well-being in our communities.
In light of this week, the Butterfly Foundation would like to remind the community that eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and the widespread stigma attached to them can stop sufferers from getting the vital help they need.
Eating disorders are often perceived as trivial, a lifestyle choice, or to do with vanity, attention seeking, or that someone is just ‘going through a phase’.
These are all myths.
The truth is that these misunderstandings and gross under-estimations result in sufferers experiencing feelings of shame, blame, hopelessness and distress. The truth is that people experiencing eating disorders often go to lengths to hide, disguise or deny their behaviour, or may not even recognising that there is anything seriously wrong. The truth is that these myths contribute to stigma so severe that it is frequently reported as a key reason people resist seeking the help that they need.
This not only impacts the lives of people who live with an eating disorder but also their families and carers, and more broadly all those who wish to live in a fair society. Eating disorders are estimated to affect approximately nine per cent of the Australian population, affecting anyone, of any age, gender, and any cultural and socio-economic background. All eating disorders come with severe medical complications and increased mortality rates. The risk of premature death is increased for people with all types of eating disorders, and the mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of all psychiatric illnesses - over 12 times that seen in people without eating disorders.
Regardless of the age of a person at the time their eating disorder begins, there is often a considerable period of time between onset and treatment; an average of approximately four years between the start of disordered eating behaviours and first treatment. Mental Health Week is a reminder that people with eating disorders and disordered eating face unfair discrimination which prevents them getting the help they need. An eating disorder is a serious mental illness. It is not a phase and it will not be resolved without treatment and support.
Changing perceptions about mental illness can go a long way towards breaking down some of the barriers that stigma and discrimination create, and help to enable people suffering from eating disorders to get the help they need as early as possible. It is unquestionable that treatment early in the development of the disorder can reduce the duration and severity of the illness. With the right treatment and support there is hope for recovery and improved quality of life at all stages of illness.
Coinciding with Mental Health Week is World Mental Health Day (WMHD), a day for global education, awareness and advocacy around mental health. You can join in and make a #MentalHealthPromise, and play an active role in your own mental health by making it a priority - not just today, but every day.
Together, on WMHD and throughout Mental Health Week in Australia, we can help to reduce the stigma associated with eating disorders and disordered eating. So if you are, or someone you know is, experiencing an eating disorder, contact our National Helpline on 1800 33 4673, access our online web counselling, or email us Monday - Friday 8am-9pm.
Butterfly is here to provide guidance, offer advice, and put you in touch with local health care facilities, to help you or a loved one along the path to recovery.