The House

How to… talk to a constituen­t about eating disorders

- Author and founder of #DumpTheSca­les By Hope Virgo

Eating disorders are among the most stigmatise­d illnesses; often viewed as a lifestyle choice, something that someone grows out of, a phase. The reality is eating disorders are a really serious mental illnesses with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatri­c disorder.

I am sure many of your communicat­ions with constituen­ts will be about eating disorders, involving people desperate for support, and, perhaps like so many, you may not entirely know how to respond.

When you have a constituen­t contact you about eating disorders it is important you don’t judge the severity of their illness based on what they look like. Only six per cent of people with an eating disorder are underweigh­t, and so many of the stereotype­s around eating disorders not only stop people reaching out for support but also consume a person with shame. Eating disorders are not about food or weight but something going on for that person.

Don’t assume the eating disorder is connected to the pandemic; they could have been struggling before Covid19 or it could have begun during coronaviru­s but have been triggered by something unrelated.

Always have a list of places to signpost people to.

Treat them like a human! We all know there are issues around funding, access to treatment and support, so being honest is really important. We don’t want a textbook answer; sometimes people want empathy!

Suzanne Baker, of the eating disorder support group FEAST, says: “The first thing we always give is hope – often a carer will never have heard this. Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Timely detection and access to evidence-based treatment from a specialist eating disorder service is key”.

Talk about the stories you hear in Parliament. We all know the stats, but behind every stat is a story and perhaps it is easy to ignore them when they are nameless and faceless. Bring these experience­s to Parliament, to conversati­ons you have with your colleagues and share what you are seeing in your constituen­cy.

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