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Treating anorexia- it's extreme

Posted May 04 2009 10:04pm
The need for specialist care took center stage in a news story about Scotland's first anorexia unit that is opening soon. Although I could comment for quite some time about the need for urgent, appropriate intervention for ED treatment ( whether or not the patient is ready ), that's not what struck me in this article. What really gave me pause for thought was this one sentence:

A major criticism of the present system is that patients with eating disorders are often kept in wards with those suffering from more extreme forms of mental illness.

Because...anorexia isn't extreme?

There are arguments both for and against treating EDs on general psychiatric wards. Though I have been in residential treatment for my eating disorder, the times I was in the hospital was on a general psych unit (under the care of an ED specialist psychiatrist). The system wasn't perfect; cheating was rampant. One of the units I was on tended to be a holding tank for geriatric patients waiting to get into nursing homes.

The one benefit of being thrown in with addicts and people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, you name it, was that it drove home the point that my eating disorder was a mental illness. I wasn't just a stupid girl who wanted control and if I could stop being so damn stubborn and just eat already, then I could bust this joint.

People who are hospitalized for eating disorders are generally so phobic of food they would rather die than eat. They cannot perceive their body accurately. They cannot perceive hunger and fullness. They cannot stop exercising or bingeing or purging or starving. They cannot function in day to day life. They cannot. It's not a matter of will or choice or any of that. It's an illness over which the sufferer has almost no control.

There are lots of good arguments in favor of specialist ED units. But one of them is not because eating disorders aren't "extreme" mental illness.

Just ask me.
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