I have a friend called Anonymous. She has given me so much control.
She has also given me osteoporosis. She reduced my heartbeat to a thin line, and pushed my friends and family to their limits. She became too much for university, and I too little. I dropped out just for her. She eats time and little else. She is Anonymous, because nobody recognised her. Not even me. I just didn’t see Anorexia coming: I didn’t know what to look for.
The decline into anorexia was easy. No obstacle intervened: no doctor recognised the symptoms, no friend. Nothing prevented me from slipping down an inevitable slope; not even a two week wait to see a doctor. There was no prevention, only a safety-net at the bottom to prevent me from becoming another fatal Anonymous statistic.
Eventually, rock bottom was the only place I’d find help. My diagnosis was such a relief: we finally understood what was wrong.
There is a very thin criteria sufferers must fulfil in order to receive treatment. Some are too big to fit the box, some live too far away to tick it. Most don’t even realise they need it ticking.
My mental illness had to be physically threatening to be taken seriously.
I was forced into recovery by a private hospital abroad. Upon returning to the UK, luck struck. Here, postcodes have become sorting numbers: those that will get help, and those that will not. One of the best Eating Disorder Units in the country is here in Surrey, just up the A3. It is where I still receive treatment for Anorexia. Had I lived elsewhere - notoriously Wales, the North or the Midlands - it is unlikely I’d be where I am today. Such is the crisis nationwide: there simply isn’t enough help to go around. The NHS has been forced into prioritising emergency cases, which is exactly what I was by the time help got to me.
Not everyone is so fortunate. 25% of sufferers will die.
Delaying treatment does nothing but encourage a declining condition. These are mental illnesses at their most dangerous: when they exploit their invisibility.
As politicians have demonstrated, throwing money at a problem will not fix it. Time and money is wasted when it is spent picking up pieces that should never have broken off in the first place. Access to care at the early stage of an illness will only be possible when people know what to look for. This is where funding must go. It must insure our future.
Our support system here at Surrey is superior to those available at many other prestigious institutions. The best my previous university could offer me was one month’s waiting list for a counselling session. Online.
For students at Surrey then, my argument is not focused on the quality of support, but the need for it.
“Support” relies on there being a problem to begin with. It’s necessity sheds an unflattering light on our prevention strategies, or lack of. Students unknowingly fall through the crack between symptoms and support.
Reducing the number of cases through preventative measures, such as campus-based education campaigns, will automatically raise the threshold for treatment away from life-threatening. The illnesses will be identified earlier, so the NHS will be able to accommodate more patients quickly. I often wonder if I’d have developed osteoporosis had I recognised my condition before my BMI plummeted to sub-anorexia.
It takes longer to retrieve someone from a pit, than it does to beckon them away from the edge. I’ve been in recovery for over two years, and am barely scratching the surface of the treatment to come.
The Student’s Union must do more to bring our attention to eating disorders. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders, and it does not discriminate between race, gender, sexuality or age.
A classroom of future lawyers, politicians, engineers, designers; students across campus. Every one of whom is vulnerable to mental ill health.
We cannot speculate about or remove “trigger”s. We are not qualified or informed to do so. What we can do, is nurture a culture of tolerance and openness. Proactive campaigns to give names to the Anonymous symptoms, and open conversations like a can of worms.
The assumption that Eating Disorders are rich, white girls’ problems is a puzzling stereotype, and a dangerous myth. They can happen to anyone.
Why is the “rich white girl” still considered representative for eating disorder sufferers? Perhaps it is because it is only the rich white girls who live to tell the tale.
We are being failed by a society that is not informing it’s members about this public health risk. With awareness, as with my weight; the only way out, is up.