Fighting stigma with treatment

I cheered a little when I read this op-ed piece in the New York Times today: To fight stigmas, start with treatment

Writes Sally Satel:

Altering public attitudes toward the mentally ill depends largely on whether they receive treatment that works. This, in turn, sets in motion a self-reinforcing momentum: the more that treatment is observed to work, the more it is encouraged.

We see this in some of the more recent trends in treatment promotion: Psychiatric medications are routinely advertised on television. The military is taking meaningful steps to make treatment for combat stress standard. And last fall, President George W. Bush signed a law that prohibits health insurance discrimination against patients with mental illness.

Antistigma campaigns are well-meaning but they lack a crucial element. No matter how sympathetic the public may be, attitudes about people with mental illness will inevitably rest upon how much or how little their symptoms set them apart.

We talk a lot about stigma and eating disorders at conferences and meetings, amongst families and professionals. Research has shown that biological explanations of eating disorders help reduce stigma, yet most of the time, people still blame anorexics for their "behavior."

I'm not going to say that the less-than-optimal treatment outcomes, especially for adults with eating disorders, are solely to blame for the stigma against EDs. Eating disorders have a wealth of sociocultural baggage to carry as well. However, Satel raises a good point that isn't often broached when the discussions about stigma arise: we need better treatments. It's too easy to see someone with mental illness as "damaged" or "defective." That their illness is permanent- not to mention that it might be a character flaw instead of a real disease.

If we can start seeing eating disorders as treatable--if we can start actually developing and applying those treatments to sufferers--maybe some of that stigma would start to evaporate.

(Read all of Satel's article- it's worth it.)

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Anonymous said...

I get angry when treatment for ED is referred to as 'rehab'. I understand that drug and alcohol addictions can be life-threatening, but so can eating disorders. You do NOT need drug or alcohol to survive. You have to eat.
I've been dealing with ED for 25 years. Despite all the treatment, therapy, inpatient, outpatient, nasal-gastric refeeding etc...etc...etc...I'm nowhere closer to a life without ED and I'm SO tired of this life.
I have a wonderful husband and puppy and physician and psychotherapist - I guess I'm just having a bad day. I come here for the hope.

Anonymous said...

I'm not anonymous. I'm Wendy.

Laura Collins said...

To Carrie: this is just SO true and SO important.

To Wendy: there ARE effective treatments. One thing about the hope that Carrie offers here on this blog is that she tells the story of both the hard psychological work but also the role of healing the brain itself FIRST. Has your brain had the opportunity to have 6-12 months of consistent, optimal nutrition and complete weight restoration?

Brwneyedgrl08 said...

To Wendy: Eating disorders are just as serious, if not more serious than drug and alcohol abuse. Reason being, as you said, you need to eat in order to survive.

In response to Laura, there are absolutely many different treatment options out there for eating disorders, the question is whether or not an individual with an eating disorder is able to receive the proper treatment that they need.

Wendy, I want to suggest for you to take a look at, which has a lot of helpful and useful information about eating disorders and treatment options that are available.

Also, there is a toll-free helpline, 1-800-714-8354, which I recommend for you to call and speak to a trained professional. Explain your situation to the counselor and they will try to help you with next steps to take in order to get on track. Stay strong, don't lose hope, you will make it through this.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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