World Mental Health Day: Three Simple Steps to Support People with Eating Disorders

10 Oct, 2019

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Did you know that 1 in 5 Australians are affected by mental illness, yet many don’t seek help for various reasons including stigma.

In eating disorders, best estimates are that over 70% of people receive no treatment, and of those who do, only around 20% receive approriate, evidence-based treatment.

There are many different factors that can prevent people from seeking treatment for eating disorders. One major barrier is the shame and stigma that persists for this illness group. The good news is that every Australian can play a part in helping to reduce stigma and making the path to treatment an easy one for those who need it.

Here are three simple things you can do right now.

Know the facts

Get informed about eating disorders.

An eating disorder is a serious mental illness that can potentially lead to death.

Eating disorders are not a choice, they are not a diet that has gone wrong, and they are not solely the domain of young women.

If someone has an eating disorder, it is not their fault and it is not their choice. It is also not the fault of their family.

If you want to educate yourself, these resources are a great place to start:

Explainer: About Eating Disorders

Factsheet: Myths and misunderstandings about eating disorders

Factsheet: Why do people get eating disorders

If you are a health professional, get trained to identify and treat eating disorders through our suite of online learning programs.

Watch what you say

What you say matters. Your words and attitudes towards bodies and food can have a huge impact on the people around you.

You cannot tell who has an eating disorder just by looking at them, so you need to be thoughtful about how what you say might impact people who are struggling.

Ask yourself if the things you say and do are contributing to unhealthy ideals, diet culture, and negative attitudes towards our bodies.

Factsheet: Helpful and unhelpful things to say and do

Talk about it!

If there is someone in your life who you think may have an eating disorder, or has developed unhealthy behaviours or attitudes about body, weight or food - talk about it!

Navigating difficult conversations with someone you care about can be tricky. But don’t avoid the conversation just because it is hard. The important thing is that you offer your support – it can make a big difference in making them feel less alone.

So how can you offer support in conversations?

  1. Try not to take on the role of a therapist. You do not need to have all the answers. It is most important to listen and create a space for the person to talk.
  2. If you do not know how to respond to something, be honest and say so. No one has all of the answers and that is okay.
  3. Talk your feelings over with a health professional, counsellor or friend, especially if you have strong reactions to the behaviour of the person you care for. This way, your feelings will not impact your conversations with the person, and you can remain calm and supportive during conversations.

The initial conversations with a person you think may have an eating disorder can be challenging, but remember, it can make a big difference to their recovery. Research shows that early intervention and treatment can increase the speed of recovery.

More tips and resources can be found here:

Factsheet: How do I talk to someone with an eating disorder

Factsheet: Externalising the eating disorder

Factsheet: Getting help early

Factsheet: I think someone I know may have an eating disorder

Every Australian can play a role in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. When it comes to eating disorders here are three things you can do right now: Know the facts, watch what you say, and talk about it.

Let’s all promise to make a difference this World Mental Health Day!

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