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By On October 2nd, 2014

Untreated Eating Disorders May Cause Death

MeasuringTape Noose

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:

3 Responses

  1. Cheri Fleming says:

    Your information is right on the mark. My daughter passed away from an eating disorder in 2013. She was in an abuse relstionship/marriage for 8 years and dealt with it through food restriction and at the end, bulimia. She was also an alcoholic as well as addicted to drugs. She could have had a personality disorder as well. Treatment was either too expensive or not something they could treat. Please keep posting information on eating disorders so treatment can become better. No one should have to suffer as this and no family should have to watch their loved starve to death with no help available.

  2. I am 50 years old and back in recovery after a 3 long year relapse with an eating disorder. Yes I have had suffered from a mental illness, but not all my illnesses are a result of the ED. I recently suffered from a nerve condition unrelated to the ED, but every doctor I saw treated me as the hysterical female with an ED. I was dismissed time and time again until I happened upon a woman with similar debilitating symptoms. I realized “it” had a name and there was a specialist that could treat me. I was beginning to think suicide would be my only way out. If only all practitioners could keep in mind that ED can cause physical problems, but not all physical problems are a result of the ED or a psychosomatic manifestation due to the ED! We are intelligent, creative, people who have an illness, but we are not the illness.

  3. Erin Larson says:

    Great article! Just want to add to it that what really sucks… and this is coming from someone struggling severely and facing death in the near future is that Medicaid (state paid insurance) isn’t accepted in different states other than the state in which it was issued. And the facilities that do accept it… there are age limits/requirements… its really sad. I’ve been to treatment when I had insurance through my employer. My Eating disorder has taken my job away from me therefore losing my insurance leaving me with no other choice but Medicaid. While I am grateful to have that for medical issues…there are many with this illness… I really wish I had better insurance in order to receive treatment.

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