Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
The world became more aware of Anorexia Nervosa in 1983, when 32-year old Karen Carpenter, the famous drummer and singer in the brother-sister band called “The Carpenters”, died of heart failure due to this eating disorder. We see pictures of celebrities suspected of anorexia. Because photos are so often touched up to help enhance models, we must suspect photos of so-called anorexia patients to also be exaggerated. None-the-less, in performance industries, thinness is held in esteem as if it is a sign of worth.
We read and hear the message constantly – “Get your beach body by summer,” “This supplement guarantees 12 pounds lost in two weeks!”, “Ask your doctor if bariatric surgery is right for you.” The message that thin is better consumes some people. Eating disorders develop as vulnerable minds absorb the idea that acceptance and true love come with losing, or not gaining, weight.
Along with that superficial message, come the ones from health industries. As a society, we are supposedly on the attack against childhood obesity. A billboard near my home reads, “Childhood obesity is going down!” I think of all the overweight kids and their bullies who read that sign. It does not describe the benefits of health (“Run and play for your health”) or promote kindness (Invite your friends to a swim party”). In my opinion, human nature interprets that sign as “I’m defective” and “take down the fat kids.”
These never-subtle messages infiltrate our society at the familial level. I heard of a grandfather who told his normal-sized eight year-old grandson that no one would ever like him if he ate all the french fries on his plate. He whispered out of earshot of the rest of the family, “You’re fat. No one loves a fat boy. No girls will like you and you won’t have any friends.” The boy’s reddening face gave away the problem, and his mother asked him later about it. From that point on, the child could choose whether to visit this abusive grandfather or not. He often chose to not.
Is it really any wonder then that young and old alike struggle with body-image? For some, self-loathing can lead to obesity because these people no longer believe there is anything to fight for. Who cares if you are extremely overweight if no one can love you anyway? Why worry about health when your life seems worthless?
For others, thinness becomes a perpetual goal. Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by binge-eating followed by “purging” which is ridding one’s body of the food before it can be absorbed into the body. Vomiting is the best-known means of purging. As in most disorders, Bulimia takes various forms, including not binge-eating or not vomiting.
People who develop Anorexia Nervosa basically stop eating. What they see in the mirror is not what we see when we look at them. Ironically, they are terrified of gaining weight while everyone around them wishes they would. People with Anorexia can become gaunt, emaciated, and hollow-cheeked. They lose muscle tone, hair and nails become brittle, and women stop having their menstrual periods. What we might describe as skin and bones, they see fat.
Anorexia is not the angst of a foolish school girl. It is a terrifying life-threatening disease that affects all ages of both men and women. Why then do we not see more older people with the disease? Many die of this disorder at young ages. Astonishingly, more people with anorexia die than those with any other mental disorder. Did you read that right? “More than any other mental disorder,” is a higher mortality rate than schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar. Not only are people dying of starvation, they are dying by suicide.
Eating Disorder HOPE published an article explaining in part, why Anorexia can be so often fatal.
- Comorbid conditions such as depression and extreme anxiety increase one’s risk of suicide.
- Refeeding Syndrome is a potentially fatal complication of restoring nutrients and fluids via eating.
- The Endocrine System can shut down.
- The Gastrointestinal System can wreak havoc on a body in a starvation situation.
- The Pulmonary System can malfunction.
- Anorexia is further complicated by its chronic nature. Patients can progress periodically through treatment, but frequently relapse.
According to Eating Disorder HOPE, studies covering 5,590 Anorexia Nervosa patients proved suspicions of a high mortality rate.
“Among those who survived, on average less than one-half recovered, one-third improved, and 20% remained chronically ill. Anorexia nervosa is a very complex and complicated disorder. It requires early diagnosis and access to care with close follow-up and often long-term treatment.”*
As with all disorders, people with Anorexia Nervosa need support systems and access to care. To manage their disease and thrive, they have to learn to avoid triggers and change negative influences such as people, places, and things.
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NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.
– picture from freeimages.com
*MSN,RN, and CRNP credential holders, Gail Hamilton, Lisa Culler, and Rebecca Elenback conributed to Anorexia Nervosa – Highest Mortality Rate of Any Mental Disorder: Why? Retrieved September 4, 2016 from http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/