Treatment for eating disorders inadequate

Though more than 8 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, only one in 10 receive treatment. (Photo by Janine/Flickr CC by -ND 2.0)

Sarah Black

Almost half of all American men and women know someone currently afflicted with an eating disorder, according to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health.

With statistics like 8 million (in other statistics 24 million) Americans being affected by eating disorders and the mortality rates of eating disorders numbering as the highest of all mental disorders, it might be more shocking that only one in 10 people with eating disorders wind up receiving treatment.

Anorexia nervosa, one of the most well known of eating disorders, has a mortality rate of 20 percent affected with the disorder, according to DMH. It is also the third most common chronic illness in adolescents.

Anorexia, as well as most other eating disorders, take years to recover from. In a ten year study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, they found that recovery for those under the age of 20 can range anywhere from one year to 15 years.

But counseling is limited for those affected with eating disorders, even at Saddleback College.

Saddleback’s Student Health Center offers aid and counseling to those with mental disorders, but only eight 50-minute sessions are allowed per semester.

However Monica Nelson, the acting director of the Student Health Center, stressed that those who need more therapy will be allowed more counseling time.

“Sometimes [the student] has multiple issues and that’s just one of them,” Nelson said.

The demographic for those who walk into the Student Health Center never stays the same. An assortment of people, men and women and ages 18-50 all come in with eating disorders, Nelson said.

But the Student Health Center is usually just the first step to treating eating disorders, she said. Once the student is ready, they are referred to other programs and agencies to help them recover.

Treatments range from psychotherapy to residential – or hospital-based treatment – but the typical treatment can range anywhere from $500 a day to $2,000. When in-patient care requires 3-6 months of treatment, $90,000-$180,000 can be spent.

Out-patient therapy usually ends up costing more than $100,000, according to DMH.

Eating disorders are defined as “a psychiatric illness characterized by an extreme desire to be thin and an intense fear of weight gain,” according to an article by Janine Keca, a school psychologist, and Catherine Cook-Cottone, a certified school psychologist.

“Eating disorders are something that tie into mental health issues overall,” said Mary Wright, who has experienced eating disorders first hand. “Treating them like just desperation to lose weight is kind of…not the right way to handle it.”

“The individual continues the endless cycle of restrictive eating, often to a point close to starvation,” according to the definition of medterms.com. “This becomes an obsession and is similar to an addiction to a drug.”

“We don’t focus on what our bodies can do,” said Instructor of Women Studies at Saddleback College April Cubbage-Vega. “We look at the flaws and can have disordered thinking about our bodies. We start thinking ‘I am my thighs.'”

Cubbage-Vega said there are about 70 million people worldwide affected with eating disorders. The population in men and gays are increasing.

“Instead of fixing women’s exploitation, we’re bringing the men into it,” said Cubbage-Vega.

One factor contributing to negative body image is “negative talking,” said Cubbage-Vega. Picking apart body image in magazines and also to compliment another can bring negative perceptions and attitudes about body image.

When body image becomes obsessive–going to the gym multiple times a day, counting calories excessively, thinking about body image to where it takes up a significant amount of time–there is a high chance of an eating disorder.

Anti-drug programs are widespread throughout thousands of schools in every state in the U.S., but few eating disorder awareness and prevention programs are offered in schools.

“It is difficult to treat advanced cases of eating disorders,” according to the article “Eating Disorders: Prevention Is Worth Every Ounce” by Keca and Cook-Cottone. “The prognosis for recovery is best when an eating disorder is diagnosed and treated early.”

But treatment and awareness for eating disorders can be found elsewhere. The “Girls’ Group” is a program that “addresses factors related to body dissatisfaction and eating disordered behavior though a wellness and positive psychology curriculum.”

Other organizations include Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, a non-profit organization that spreads information on eating disorders, Body Positive, 4 Girls Health, and the National Eating Disorders Association, which has a mission of eliminating all eating disorders “through education, referral and support services, advocacy, training, and research.”

And while many attribute eating disorders to the female population, it is shown that more than 1 million of the 8 million affected are male.

Eating disorders are categorized as a serious mental illness that, for more than one third of those with eating disorders, takes at least 5 full years to recover from. Recognizing the issue before it takes hold makes recovery and prevention much easier to manage.

The NEDA line is 800-931-2237, and is a toll-free number. Other referrals include the Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach (949) 499-1311, ext. 7501, which includes out-patient care. Other programs and care can be found by going to the Student Health Care Center or calling (949) 582-4606.

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