Eating Disorders in the Midst This Emotional Life - PBS

Eating disorders / Blog

 Lynn Grefe

Lynn Grefe's Bio

Lynn Grefe is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Eating Disorders Association.

Eating Disorders in the Midst


As I watched This Emotional Life, I found myself overwhelmed with many emotional challenges people face and the numerous mental health diagnoses that seem on the rise. And, sadly, although not covered in the piece, the one with the highest death rate of any mental illness is Anorexia Nervosa. But, most people don’t even have a clue to that tidbit, as the technical cause of death is often either heart failure or suicide. But, the real truth is that the heart failure or suicide was a result of the eating disorder.

Knowing that, I can’t help but wonder why there is not enough national attention focused on the severity of this illness that especially exists among young women, why our government barely invests in the necessary research to determine causes, prevention methods and improved treatments; and why almost each and every family has to fight their insurance company for appropriate coverage for care. If someone does not have insurance, they are really isolated – you can be sure that public health clinics do not generally have eating disorders specialists on staff. These are all the questions that don’t hit the airwaves, although publicizing how “skinny” a celebrity is, certainly does.

The irony is that eating disorders rarely travel alone. They are usually accompanied by another diagnosis such as anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. Eating disorders can also be accompanied by drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. And, too often, the eating disorder gets missed as everyone is too worried about the other pieces. Meanwhile, the eating disorder has such dangerous implications to a person’s long term health that it should be on every physician’s radar screen for detection as easily as one might detect the measles.

Whether someone has disordered eating patterns, Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder or  EDNOS (an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Diagnosed), it is important that we as a society, and individuals, be vigilant and take it seriously. It is time to step up our actions and raise the volume on our voices to insist that change must occur in this field.  In 2010, our theme for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (February 21-27) is “It’s Time to Talk About It.”  And, based on the number of families I am meeting who have lost a loved one to this illness, I can’t stress enough that it really is time.