Eating disorders on the web
Facts and stats are useful, but it’s more powerful to put a human face on experiences of mental illness.
That’s certainly the case when it comes to eating disorders.
The National Eating Disorders Collaboration estimates that up to 9% of the Australian population suffers from an eating disorder.
Source: National Eating Disorders Collaboration
But who are these people?
What do they look like? (For the record, most people with an eating disorder fall within the healthy weight range.)
How has their illness affected their relationships, financial status, physical health and hopes for the future?
In my Googling and YouTubing, I’ve found a number of excellent articles, videos and interviews that address these questions.
The BBC documentary Living on Air is a bit dated, but it still conveys the emotional agony of living with anorexia and bulimia.
Then there’s a couple of intense, well-written articles on the subject of eating disorders on The Guardian’s website.
Something that bugs me is that binge-eating disorder and EDNOS (eating disorder not-otherwise-specified) are often left off the radar.
People who are overweight, obese, or do not fit into the diagnostic criteria for anorexia or bulimia still suffer from a legitimate mental illness and deserve recognition.
As such, I was excited to find an informative video that focuses on one of the ‘lesser-known’ eating disorders.
These videos and articles are a good starting point for understanding eating disorders and identifying with the individuals they affect.
What are your thoughts?
Want to learn about stigma as it applies to bipolar disorder?
Look no further than this ace video from the research team at Crest BD.
While this clip focuses on bipolar, the three-tier model can be applied to any mental illness.
To use anorexia as an example:
- Self stigma: not accepting the diagnosis of anorexia, internalising negative stereotypes, blaming oneself for being ‘weak’
- Social stigma: other people in society expressing views that anorexia is not a legitimate mental illness or is all about ‘vanity’
- Structural stigma: lack of employment and healthcare opportunities, unhelpful media images invalidating anorexia
With more short and sweet educational videos like this one, stigma doesn’t stand a chance!
NB: I got the idea for this post from a great blog I discovered yesterday,Marci, Mental Health, & More.
How to live a full life
A central tenet of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is the importance of creating a life worth living.
One way to do this is to work upwards through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow penned ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ – a paper that revolutionised psychological theory.
Maslow believed that people are motivated to achieve certain needs.
When one need is fulfilled, a person seeks to fulifil the next.
According to SimplyPsychology writer Saul McLeod:
“Every person is capable and has the desire to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self-actualisation. Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by failure to meet lower level needs. Life experiences including divorce and loss of job may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy.
Maslow noted only one in a hundred people become fully self-actualised because our society rewards motivation primarily based on esteem, love and other social needs.”
The Hierarchy of Needs has strong ties to mental health.
Nothing like a denial of physiological needs, safety, loving relationships and self-esteem to fire up the old depression furnace.
For people with mental illness, it’s not so much a deliberate plan to be “less than you are capable of being” than a constant fight to be the best you can be despite immense barriers to self-actualisation.
What are your thoughts on Maslow’s pyramid?
The biopsychosocial model explained
Mental illness has nothing to do with personal weakness.
It’s a product of biopsychosocial factors, including off-kilter brain chemistry.
So if ever you’re struggling and someone tells you to “pull your socks up” or “stop being such an attention-seeker”, direct them to the biopsychosocial model.
We can’t control how closed or open-minded other people are about matters of mental health, but every bit of education counts.
And if all else fails, slip the sceptic a chill pill.
You can read one of my previous myth-busting posts, Fact versus fiction on bipolar and depression, here.
Top five mental illness autobiographies
If you’ve perused a list of psychiatric diagnoses, you would have noticed that there are very, very many types of mental illness.
There are depressive disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders – each of which has its own sub-set of labels.
For example, dysthymia (chronic low mood) falls under depressive disorders, while obsessive-compulsive disorder is part of the anxiety category.
Basically, there are a LOT of disorders.
Within this befuddling vortex of definitions and symptoms, it can be helpful to put a face to a given disorder, along with a person’s lived experience of it.
Here we have a shortlist of autobiographies that relate to a variety of mental illnesses.
Each book is fascinating; worth a read regardless of the status of your brain chemistry.
- Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi – anorexia and bulimia
- The Centre Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks – schizophrenia
- All of Me by Kim Noble – dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder)
- Madness by Marya Hornbacher – bipolar disorder, alcoholism
- Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel – depression, substance abuse
Bonus book: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Not technically an autobiography, but the story very closely parallels the American poet’s experiences of a nervous breakdown, suicide attempt and hospitalisation in her early ’20s.
Do you have any favourite books about mental illness that I haven’t mentioned?
Fact versus fiction on bipolar and depression
Nothing like a good myth-busting session!
And, unlike these guys, you don’t need a beret or crazy moustache to partake.
Joking aside, falsehood is often the foundation for stigma.
The more we spread the truth about mental illness, the sooner acceptance will flourish.
You can check out one of my previous posts on stigma here.
Be inspired! Join the Internal Acceptance Movement
I was searching for a quote when I stumbled on something amazing.
Daniell Koepke is the 21-year-old creator of the Internal Acceptance Movement. This is how she describes her passion project:
“The Internal Acceptance Movement is an online space that advocates self-acceptance, healthy body image, recovery from self-destructive behaviors and addictions… I. A.M. is a space that offers support to those battling their inner demons and strength to continue fighting when all hope seems to be gone.
I. A.M. represents the idea that as human beings, we aren’t defined by anything external, such as our weight, appearance, body shape, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, clothing choices, income, occupation, or background.
Instead, it’s our internal qualities–our character and attitude, our passions and dreams, our soul and spirit, our heart and capacity to love, our goals and morals, and the way in which we treat others–that are truly self defining…
I. A.M. exists to remind you that you are NOT alone in how you feel or what you’re going through; that it’s okay to not be okay.”
There’s enough life-affirming, anti-stigma sentiment in Daniell’s brief description to boost the saggiest of spirits!
Adding to the inspiration factor, Daniell has been in recovery from anorexia and bulimia for the past five years.
She hopes to become a therapist and help people experiencing a variety of mental illnesses and life struggles.
And now, for the awesome quote that got me hooked on I. A.M. in the first place:
“There is nothing wrong with wanting attention. It doesn’t make you selfish. It doesn’t make you desperate or pathetic or weak. It makes you human.
We all want to be noticed. We all need to feel seen and heard and valued. And we all deserve to have those needs met. You are no exception. You deserve to take up space. You deserve to be acknowledged and loved and cared for. You deserve to shine.
Don’t let anyone, including yourself, convince you otherwise.”
You can follow I. A.M. on Facebook here.
Birdee boosts self-esteem
Launched in 2013, Birdee is an online magazine that encourages young women to have a good rant and rave about the social issues that matter most.
Topics up for discussion include mental health, body image, sexuality and pop culture. It’s important stuff, tackled with copious intelligence and wit.
After an extensive and enjoyable browsing session, I’ve narrowed down the best of what’s on offer at Birdee from a mental health perspective:
- Bruises, Blood Noses and Shame: My Story of Abuse – by Chanelle Leslie
- Take More Than One Fig From The Tree: Stop freaking out about your career! – by Erin Stewart
- Beauty From Within – with Clare Stem
- A is for Anxiety: Turning Anxiety into Art – by Laura Repetti
- “I’m a total fraud”: Emma Watson struggles with Imposter Syndrome, but she’s not alone – by editorial
- Self-Harm is not a Fashion Trend – by editorial
- Your Brain After a 20 Minute Walk – by editorial
- You Are Not a Sketch: Powerful new anti-anorexia campaign – by editorial
And if you’re not a young woman… read it all anyway!
There are great messages here for anyone who’s keen to create a life worth living.
Now it’s personal!
headspace helps young people
headspace is Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation. The organisation helps young people aged 12-25 who are going through a tough time.
- are feeling down, stressed or can’t stop worrying
- haven’t felt like yourself for a long time
- can’t deal with school or are finding it difficult to concentrate
- are feeling sick or worried about your health
- want to cut down on your drinking or drug use
- want to talk about sexuality, identity or relationships
- are having difficulties with friendships
- have sexual health issues or want to find out about contraception
- are being bullied, hurt or harassed
- are worried about work or study or if you’re having money trouble
headspace was established and funded by the Commonwealth Government of Australia in 2006.
Savour the small stuff
Feeling overwhelmed this weekend?
Take a break in one of these creative ways and recharge your battery.
You’ll feel better, I promise!
Guided mindfulness exercises to help you ‘be in the moment’.
Seriously, it’s an awesome way to become more aware of your surroundings, bodily sensations and emotions – to give yourself a break from the hustle and bustle. Mindfulness helps you fully appreciate what’s happening right this minute, rather than ruminating on the past or stressing about the future.
Research from the NIMH
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is an authoritative source of the latest news and research in the field of mental health. It’s an American organisation but heck, mental illness is a universal concern!
“NIMH envisions a world in which mental illnesses are prevented and cured.
The mission of NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure.
For the Institute to continue fulfilling this vital public health mission, it must foster innovative thinking and ensure that a full array of novel scientific perspectives are used to further discovery in the evolving science of brain, behavior, and experience. In this way, breakthroughs in science can become breakthroughs for all people with mental illnesses.”
What a worthwhile organisation – a real advocate for better mental health. And they publish some really interesting articles.
The Best Damn Mental Health Blog is a fantastic, frequently updated resource.
Check it out for images, quotes and info sheets you’ll want to share with all and sundry.