Untreated Eating Disorders May Cause Death

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Last month, I attended the Oklahoma Eating Disorders Association’s (OEDA) second annual conference.  Having thought that I was fairly knowledgeable about disordered eating, I was stunned to learn that an eating disorder diagnosis has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric diagnosis.   A clinician in the audience asked the presenter, Ed Tyson, MD, FAED, if that statistic took substance abuse disorders into account.  Yes, it does.  More people die of an eating disorder than of any other psychiatric diagnosis.  It is hard to believe, but my next thought was to wonder why this isn’t more widely known.  Further on in the presentation, the way in which individuals with eating disorders are bounced back and forth between medical facilities and psychiatric facilities was discussed.  It is unfortunately common that someone goes to a medical hospital, and is told “we can’t treat you here because this is a psychiatric issue.”  If the person then goes to a psychiatric hospital, they are told “we can’t treat you here because you need medical treatment that we can’t provide.”

We’ve come a long way in our understanding of eating disorders, but it remains a mystery to many.  People may speculate that someone who is restricting “just needs to eat something.”  Someone who is overweight might be thought of as lacking willpower or lazy.  Individuals with eating disorders often have experienced trauma, and along with this some develop personality disorders as coping mechanisms.  Borderline personality disorder is sometimes seen in someone who also has an eating disorder, for example.  This constellation of problems (the physical acuity, history of trauma, personality disorder, and the eating disorder itself) creates a complex path of treatment.  I have to wonder if the fact that this disorder is highly associated with females has anything to do with the seemingly low priority and abundant lack of understanding.  The stigma of the so-called “hysterical female” still lingers creating a barrier to treatment as well as research of eating disorders.

Brookhaven Hospital provides treatment to those with an eating disorder, and is proud to be a member of the OEDA as they seek to continue to provide education to clinicians as well as the general public about eating disorders.  It is truly a matter of life or death.

If you or someone you know shows signs of living with an eating disorder, please contact a Brookhaven eating disorder case manager to see how we can help. You can call here:

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