Eating disorders need more attention, funding

I’m lying on one of those hospital beds with the fake plastic mattress that you would stick to in the heat of summer. It’s winter though. Five heavy heated blankets are stacked on top of me, but I’m still shivering. Voices, beeping monitors, whispers, cries of pain and ringing phones fill the world beyond the hospital curtains.

I look at my mother’s tearful face. It’s not filled with disappointment – it’s contorted with fear. She fears I might die. She holds my boney hand and gently rubs her thumb across it. I look to the heart monitor as it hits the ‘warning: dangerously low heart’ rate zone again and begins to beep. My heart rate falls further and further down.

20—18—14—10—9—

This is a scene I wrote for my creative writing class last semester. It was based on my own experience.

When I was 13, I was hospitalized with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by restrictive eating and excessive exercise.

I’m now 19, fully recovered, and a second-year journalism student at St. Thomas University who wishes she could infuse some humour into this serious and emotional commentary.

The fact is, eating disorders are not something to laugh about or brush off. They are grossly misunderstood, research on them remains underfunded and access to treatment is poor in New Brunswick.

I’ve bore the brunt of snide remarks about throwing up to know that even basic education about eating disorders is lacking. For the record, throwing up is a characteristic of bulimia, not anorexia. Although someone can suffer with both, such is not always the case.

I obviously don’t expect people to have ingrained knowledge of eating disorders. It’s especially difficult to have such knowledge when research for them receives less funding in comparison to other mental illnesses.

In the United States, eating disorders affect approximately 30-million people, which is equivalent to the population of Canada. Yet, the average amount of research dollars per affected individual in 2011 was just 93 cents, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. For schizophrenia, which affects approximately 3.4-million people, the amount was $81 per affected individual.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick lacks a treatment facility for people with eating disorders. This means those suffering may have to travel out of province to receive the necessary treatment in order to recover. New Brunswick is the only province without a treatment facility.

Had I lived here when I was 13, I likely would not be alive to write this commentary.

The University of New Brunswick’s It’s Not About Food Group proposed declaring Feb. 1 to 7 eating disorder awareness week. I worked with the group to get St. Thomas to recognize the proclamation.

I was elated when the proclamation was passed. Although I knew a simple proclamation wouldn’t do much itself, I was glad that the school recognized it. I hope such recognition might make anyone struggling with an eating disorder at the university feel a bit more comfortable and supported in their community.

Eating disorders effect approximately 70-million individuals worldwide. One in five women struggle with an eating disorder. Statistically, I am not the only person to pass through this university who has experienced an eating disorder at some point in her life. Statistically, there are some students suffering here right now.

I advocate for increased awareness because I believe no one should ever have to watch their heart rate drop as low as I watched mine.

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