In 2013 my very worried mum took me to the doctors. I was severely restricting what I ate, and my weight was plummeting. I was also exhausted all the time, my periods had stopped, and I had become pale and withdrawn. The doctor weighed me and then told us that there was nothing to worry about: my BMI was not in the ‘critical range’, so my condition was not deemed serious enough to warrant treatment. We were given a list of ‘healthy meal ideas’ and that was it. Knowing something was clearly wrong, but not getting any help when we sought it, was awful. Even worse, my illness was exacerbated by the doctor’s words: I felt like I hadn’t gone ‘far enough’ and my condition got even worse.
I was admitted to CAMHS two months later. Predictably, my weight had met the ‘criteria’. My blood pressure had also become dangerously low, so I spent some time in hospital. I know people have had mixed experiences with CAMHS; for me personally, I didn’t have a positive experience. They focused heavily on the physical side of recovery (an important part of the process, but not the only one), but not enough on the mental side (an equally, if not more, important part). I never got a chance to talk through all the things that had led to me getting to that state- things like the need for a sense of control in my life, hurtful comments at school and past childhood experiences. In other words, the focus was on the consequence of my disorder, rather than the cause. But eating disorders are not a matter of what someone looks like or how much they weigh. It’s a mental health problem and should be treated as such.
I feel grateful, though, to have received any kind of treatment at all at such an early stage, something that not everyone gets. Shockingly, it is not uncommon for people seeking help to have to wait for 6 months or longer, due to the underfunding and limited capacity of mental health services. So much damage can be done in that time, both physically and psychologically. The current situation is not good enough.
I was discharged from CAMHS in May 2014 and since then it’s been an uphill struggle. I struggled for years with my mental health (though fortunately never getting to that awful point again), but I’m so happy to be able to call myself a survivor. More than anything else I hope that mental health will move up the agenda so that people struggling can receive adequate help as soon as they need it.