Washington advocates work to destigmatize mental health and eating disorders

Although eating disorders have increased during the pandemic, the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Washington and other organizations are working to de-stigmatize mental health and steer those who need treatment towards specialized care for eating disorders. NAMI is a grassroots mental health organization that works with local affiliates in communities across the state to help those affected by mental illness.

Lauren Simonds, executive director of NAMI in Washington, said there’s a lack of behavioral health professionals in all areas, not just eating disorder specialists. She said insurance coverage for the treatment, whether public or private insurance, poses an additional major hurdle.

Simonds said that although eating disorders are diagnosed as behavioral disorders, treatment is long-term, sometimes requiring hospitalization or partial hospitalization. These treatments require special approval from suppliers. According to Simonds, denials are common, and calls take a lot of energy and time to resolve.

Those who cannot find specialized support groups can join a NAMI Connection Recovery support group, which is offered free of charge. People can attend virtually in Washington and across the country. Mental health adviser Anne Cuthbert said there is also a wide range of literature, podcasts and support groups online so people can connect with others who may be having similar experiences.

But stigma still surrounds discussions of eating disorders, and some may be afraid to communicate their struggles. Simonds said people with eating disorders or body dysmorphia often face self-stigma due to living in a society where fat-shaming is widely accepted.

“Our society has only recently begun to address the stigma of people with behavioral health issues,” Simonds said. “It’s not, and still isn’t, common to hear people openly discussing their personal struggles with eating disorders.”

While there may be hesitation to speak up, Valerie Bledsoe encourages those who may be hesitant to seek help to do so as soon as possible.

“I know people often think they’re not sick enough or they don’t really have that big of a problem,” Bledsoe said. “Don’t wait for him to grow up. Don’t wait an “aha” moment. Find that little piece of you that wants to get better and nurture it.

Did you know?

Although eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose, only 1 in 10 with eating disorders actually seek treatment.

— South Carolina Department of Mental Health

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