Why I Chose to Go Public with My Eating Disorder
A projected 1 in 4 Americans are affected by mental illness, that is an estimated 450 million people. Two-Thirds of those people will never seek help they need.
Stigma, the discriminatory belief that mental illness should be neglected and those who suffer with it should be showered with shame and dishonor. I believe, the reason why mental illness is so hard for people to understand is because it is invisible. It’s not the same as a broken bone that you can show off with a cast, and have your classmates and coworkers sign. No one is going to want to sign your forehead. It’s hard to talk about because it is so personal. It can feel invasive, to say the least. Opening up sets a person up for vulnerability, which is not something doled out frequently.
Self-stigma, the prejudice that a victim of mental illness puts on themselves. Before I educated myself on my illness, I did not believe that eating disorders existed. I did not understand them. They lived in the realm of attention-seeking and make believe. However, what I have learned over the course of my journey is, just because you don’t understand something does not mean it is wrong. In the same way that I do not understand calculus or advanced bio-chem, that does not make either one of those things wrong.
Our world is stained with judgment and bias. We judge anyone who is different from ourselves. When has judging ever worked in our favor? You would think that with all the discrimination laws established over the years, society would understand how unproductive and harmful it is. That same judgement has caused wars and deaths. And today it the main cause preventing people from seeking the treatment they desperately need.
According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, “The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15-24 years old. Without treatment, up to 20% of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2-3%.” That is absurd. The fact that so many young women will end up dead because they feared judgment is absolutely disgusting.
Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, so why do people still believe that they are a game of make believe? Anything so serious that it kills millions of people each year should not be taken lightly.
A decade ago, people were not as open about cancer as they are today. It was something kept close between the family. People did not broadcast their battle, instead they kept it as a secret, a secret that would slowly killing them. Thankfully, we now live in a world where cancer is accepted and cancer patients are surrounded by nothing but love and support. So why can’t the same be done for patients of mental illness?
To overcome a mental illness, you need to immerse yourself in love. Not only love from others but the love from yourself as well. But how can a victim expect to open up about their struggle if we shame or humiliate them? Or tell them to just shut up about it because they are bullshit and aren’t even real?
“Stigma breeds silence, which fuels the fear and ignorance that feeds the stigma. Breaking this vicious circle not only makes life easier for people with cancer, but can also change public attitudes towards prevention and early detection (Wagstaff).” Although Amy was referring to cancer, the same can be said about mental illness. We need to rewire the way our society perceives mental disorders. They are real, they are dangerous, and they NEED to be taken seriously. How many more people are we willing to let die to the hands of stigma before we realize that maybe, just because we don’t understand doesn’t make them wrong?
So, the reason that I am so open about my journey is because I want to let people know they are not alone. That they should not neglect treatment in fear of being humiliated. By opening up, I have broken the stigma, and I have broken the chains ot which my illness confined me. I have set myself free.
If by sharing my story, I have the chance to motivate just one person to seek support, then I will know that I have made a difference, that I have the potential to change and maybe even save a life. Then will I know that my whole journey was worth it.