Ensuring Eating Disorders Are Part of the Conversation

April 15, 2021

1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year. With the COVID-19 pandemic, some experts are estimating that number may be inching closer to 1 in 3. Ongoing research conducted by the Pew Research Center indicates that, since the start of the pandemic, more than 20% of U.S. adults report experiencing high levels of psychological distress. These symptoms include anxiety, sleeplessness, depression, loneliness, as well as physical symptoms of distress. 

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The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Mental Health

Eating disorders are complex biopsychosocial disorders, and yet, they are often left out of many important mental health conversations. They are often seen as disorders of choice and/or vanity when that could not be further from the truth. They are serious mental illnesses. 

Eating disorders have the second-highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with someone dying every 52 minutes as a direct result. And yet, only about ⅓ of individuals experiencing eating disorders will ever receive treatment. 

How Eating Disorders Affect Mental Health

Eating disorders rarely present alone.
In fact, 30-50% of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa, nearly half of those with Bulimia Nervosa, and nearly half of those with Binge Eating Disorder have a comorbid mood disorder.

Barriers to Treating Eating Disorders as a Mental Illness

Insurance barriers and a lack of specialized treatment providers further exacerbate the toll eating disorders take on individuals and the United States’ economy. A 2020
study from Harvard University’s Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and Deloitte Access Economics displayed the overwhelming economic impact of eating disorders, costing the U.S. over $391 billion each year in direct healthcare costs and additional loss of wellbeing. Unfortunately, individuals often suffer in silence, unable to access specialized eating disorder care and support.

Eating Disorders and Mental Health During a Pandemic

Over these past two years, we have seen how the increase in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress has also led to increases in behaviors and intrusive thoughts that drive the eating disorder. A June 2020
study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, found that over 80% of participants reported an increase in anxiety since the start of the pandemic. When we are overwhelmed, it is natural to find ways to cope and, without healthful coping skills, we may develop behaviors with or around food to alleviate unpleasant feelings that arise. 

That same study, which focused on the early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals with eating disorders, reported that many of the participants had serious concerns about the worsening of their eating disorder. In fact, some of the concerns included:

  • Lack of structure brought on by the pandemic (79% of U.S participants)
  • Being quarantined in triggering environments (58% of U.S. participants)
  • Lack of social support (59% of U.S. participants)
  • Being unable to access food consistent with their meal plan (61% of U.S. participants)

Who Is Affected?

Eating disorders do not discriminate between age, gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, and/or body shape/size.
They can affect anyone. Eating disorders are notoriously difficult to treat and often require a multidisciplinary care team.

Why We Should Include Eating Disorders in Mental Health Awareness Month

During this year’s Mental Health Awareness Month, it is imperative that we bring eating disorders to the forefront of the conversation. With intervention and access to care, recovery is possible…and it’s happening. 

If you or a loved one is currently struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Connect with us at https://Findedhelp.com/ to find eating disorder treatment options near you today.

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