Let’s get this clear. Eating disorders are so much more than a ‘skinny white girl’ illness. Pure and simple. They destroy lives.
Debbie Watson, founder of social enterprise Wednesday’s Child, discusses the crisis in our current management of this complicated mental health issue.
Imagine walking into a GP surgery, presenting with a broken leg, and being told the severity of the break doesn’t look like it warrants immediate attention.
Imagine dragging yourself back home, questioning yourself as an attention-seeking fraud – despite your agonising pain, and wondering if your treatment priority might arrive when your leg finally starts to weep from a gangrenous wound.
Sure, this sounds completely unfathomable and extreme, but I paint the rather ludicrous picture for a reason.
Today, up and down the UK, there will be families and individuals finally plucking up the courage to walk through a GP’s door and discuss their fears about an eating disorder.
It’s a step which should by all accounts be the first in a pathway toward care, treatment and recovery – but the current state of play makes this a mere dream in many cases.
Despite the fact that there are estimated to be anywhere upwards of 1.25 million in the UK suffering from an eating disorder (one in five schoolchildren and a huge spike in student years), our current care provision is so under resourced, overwhelmed and in some cases poorly educated, that more and more people are at risk of being turned away into a black hole of no support.
Regardless of the myths and misconceptions, the illness can affect someone in any size body, and a person of any gender, race or age. It cares not who it harms. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health illness.
Why then does all this matter so much to me?
Well, because I’ve been there.
When I say ‘I’ve been there’, I mean I’ve been through 20 years of eating disorder hell, with my brain and body ravaged by an illness which controlled every single thought, behaviour and life outcome.
No, I wasn’t a child that craved looking like a skinny celebrity, and I certainly never set out on a deliberate act of self-destruct.
Instead, as a high achieving, perfectionist, people-pleaser of a young university student, I found myself experiencing a ‘perfect storm’ of life and emotion events, which very rapidly culminated in anorexia nervosa.
My story is not at all unusual, and nor is the complicated and often frustrating experience I’ve had around attempting to access care, feeling limited in my options, and becoming more determined that ‘something needs to change’.
Post-18 care, in particular, is a huge battle for those with eating disorders, providing few options in between a series of CBT sessions, or a longer-term residential treatment stay (when a bed is available).
In the midst of this, thousands upon thousands are trying to navigate their own recovery, often while trying to maintain higher education, and perhaps without immediate family support or loyal friendships to turn to while living away from home.
It’s for these very reasons that this year I shifted my career focus to create a social enterprise which has been a burning seed in my mind for so very long.
I’ve desperately wanted to be someone who could turn my lived experience – with all the frustrations and the positive encounters – into a recovery-focused not for profit business.
Wednesday’s Child came into being this summer and is now evolving into a trusted community, as well as a provider of wellbeing boxes, recovery programmes, empathy events, and training for schools, businesses and healthcare professionals.
Wednesday’s Child is seeking to shift how eating disorders are perceived, discussed, treated and experienced.
Our mental health kindness boxes are being sent by friends and family members all over the world in support of a recovery bid, our supportive suppers are growing in popularity, and our training for schools and higher education institutions is being snapped up with great enthusiasm and thirst to learn more.
Each week we’re helping coach and support those who desperately need another guiding hand – so it’s time you also knew of our existence.
I urge and implore you, that if you believe someone on campus (or yourself) is experiencing an eating disorder, please PLEASE, raise your hand and ask for help.
My door is open to anyone in need of support in fighting this devastating disease, so don’t wait, Reach out.
If you’d like to talk more about the Wednesday’s Child’s programmes or the organisation’s ambitious goals, email firstname.lastname@example.org