Would You Approach, and, If So, What Would You Say?

Author: Valery B.

Today, when I was filming for a Mental Health Awareness video, I was asked a question I have been asked many times before: if you suspect someone has an Eating Disorder or other Mental Illness, would you approach them and, if so, what would you say? 

As much as answering this question has become second nature to me, I always have to stop and take a minute to formulate my thoughts. For those who are unfamiliar with Eating Disorders or who have never seen an Eating Disorder, my hesitation and follow up answer are thought-proviking baffles. They think either, of course she will approach and tell them to get help, or no way she’d approach – it’s not her business. Although these are both very plausible cases, my answer is quite different – more so a mixture of the two. 

If I were in a situation where I completely and utterly, 100% – and not a bit less – knew that someone was ill, I would approach them and urge them to seek help from a trusted adult, friend or family member; however, I would never push him or her in that direction. I would never criticize or assign blame. I would never make the individual feel as though recovery and treatment are his or her only options because, frankly, it is not my place to do so. As much as I would want the affected to reach out for help, to open up about his or her struggles, to recovery and, once again, be happy and carefree, I would never be able to convince that person if his or her mind is set on persisting with the illness, which, much of the time, is the case. 

There is a fairly simple explanation to this defiance. Eating Disorders are silent illnesses. Because there is so much stigma surrounding them, those who are affected feel the need to closet their troubles in order to evade judgement, derision, and humiliation. When was the last time you heard someone openly talking about Eating Disorders (besides me)? When was the last time you witnessed public and government officials addressing the spread of Eating Disorders?  When was the last time you saw mass communicators, television producers, and social media gurus speak about Eating Disorders and their life-threatening impacts? I would say, not too often. Would you agree? 

I am not dismissing society for neglecting these issues: there is no doubt that it is, in fact, publicizing and trying to combat the obesity epidemic, often brought by Binge Eating Disorder. But, how about anorexia? How about bulimia? How about the Eating Disorders not otherwise specified? There are so many cases of the aforementioned yet there is such a lack of openness and publication about them. It should, therefore, not be a surprise that individuals touched by anorexia, bulimia, and/or EDNOS (Eating Disorders not Otherwise Specified) feel as though they are alone – as though there is no one else in their shoes, going through the same pain, struggles, and embarrassments. 

I am a strong proponent of educating about and spreading awareness of Eating Disorders on a national front because more people – especially those who are affected – need to know that they are not alone. When I started treatment, I genuinely believed that I was the only human being experiencing both anorexia and bulimia at the same time; however, I was wrong. Treatment taught me that there are thousands of people just like me, suffering with these two illnesses simultaneously. I remember the relief I felt after learning this simple yet momentous fact. It was a relief I could never recapture and one that helped me establish my goals of educating and spreading awareness. 

If more people knew about the ubiquity of Eating Disorders and about their serious and death-binding symptoms, perhaps my urges of seeking help and opening up would be adhered to. Perhaps an Eating Disorder victim would listen to my advice and find the strength to battle his or her affected persona. 

Until then, however, all I can do is approach, make kind suggestions, and hope that the sufferer hears my words. 

-Valery B.

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