A quick list of do’s and don’t’s when offering support
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016 begins February 21st. Eating disorders (EDs) impact millions of Americans every year, and the number of cases has grown at an unprecedented rate in the past two decades. To this day, EDs remain in a notably under-recognized space in our healthcare system, despite representing the highest mortality rate among all other forms of mental illness (the numbers could be considerably higher if ED diagnoses and their resulting health complications could be objectively linked).
If you’re beginning to feel concerned over a friend or family member’s habits, such as disappearing after meals, demonstrating a dramatic gain or loss of weight in a short period of time, or obsessing over exercise, it might be time to step in. The following are a few helpful tips in getting a fruitful conversation rolling.
- Place blame, shame, or guilt—avoid using accusatory “you” statements, which almost always result in defensiveness and resentment. Remember that the goal is to communicate your concern, not impose accountability.
- Get into a battle of wills—your concern may be met with disagreement over whether or not there is even a problem. Bickering won’t get you anywhere. In such cases it is important to reiterate your feelings, explain why you have them, and leave yourself open and available as a supportive listener.
- Give simple solutions—for example, “If you could only stop, everything would get better!” Well, sure. The person might even agree with you, but EDs aren’t the type of problem that a passing moment of clarity will solve. They are a genuine form of mental illness that require the support of a dedicated professional.
- Set a time to talk—this is an important conversation to have, and it demands your complete attention and honesty in a thoughtful, caring, and respectful way. Ensure there are no distractions.
- Share memories of specific times you felt concerned—think of concrete examples of when you felt worried about the person. Explain that you think these things could indicate a problem that needs professional attention.
- Express your continued support—remind your friend or family member that you care about them and that their happiness and health are important to you.
If you still fear for your friend or family member’s health and safety after having this conversation, immediately contact a medical professional. EDs create hardship for those both directly and indirectly involved, and are pervasive on a national level. Increasing our awareness of EDs and approaching the problem proactively is the first step to ensuring the wellness of those afflicted.