Despite affecting approximately 30 million people in the United States, eating disorders are still largely considered “off-limits.” They aren’t to be spoken about, especially in public. The shame and taboo related to mental illnesses like anorexia and bulimia push people to hide their struggles until it is too late, or never seek treatment at all.
Thankfully, that is gradually starting to change. People who have survived an eating disorder or seen someone they love waste away in front of their eyes are no longer staying silent.
The Heads Together campaign helped highlight this recently with a blunt and honest father-daughter conversation between broadcaster Mark Austin and his daughter Maddy. As a teenager, severe anorexia took Maddy to the edge of death. Like many parents, Mark often felt helpless as his daughter seemed to get worse and worse.
The mental illness was a strain not just on Maddy’s body, but the family’s relationship. “I can remember at one stage saying if you want to go ahead and starve yourself to death, you go ahead,” recalls Mark. “I obviously didn’t mean it, but I was so helpless.”
Despite the struggles, the bond between father and daughter was part of what helped Maddy find the strength to get better. “I’ll always remember thinking then that it wasn’t just me this was affecting, it was everyone,” Maddy explains.
The conversation is at moments raw, inspiring, and heartwarming. Most importantly, it is honest and doesn’t shy away from calling anorexia what it is: a serious mental health issue.
As Mark says, “It was realizing it was a serious mental health issue and that we had to treat it as a serious mental health issue, and that’s why now we are talking about it.”
Mark and Maddy may be British, but the video shows that eating disorders are a global issue that needs to be taken seriously. Hopefully, more families affected by eating disorders can take the Austin’s lead and start having the same kind of hard but rewarding conversations about anorexia and recovery.