Due to the excessive amount of stigma surrounding mental health problems these days, it is only natural for a person to want to keep their illness to themselves. Maybe they’ll share it with a few close friends and family, but this tends to be limited to very close friends and family. No one else. If you are anorexic however, the physical signs will inevitably appear. The whole world knows your little secret. You are essentially walking around with a sign round your neck saying ‘I’m anorexic, have a good stare’. As a result, you are exposed to arguably more stigma than any other mental health problem.
For illnesses such as schizophrenia, most stigma is the result of the fear of the unknown. In the case of anorexia, most stigma comes in the form of utter disgust. You would not believe some of the things I was called and I’m not prepared to write them here; they were hurtful, hateful, horrible and simply unrepeatable. The abuse wasn’t just verbal. Some people thought it would be fun to push me over repeatedly in a club during my first year here at Leeds. I ended up with two broken ribs. This kind of stigma is fuelled by a simple lack of understanding.
The most common misconception about anorexia is that it is due to vanity and a desire to look like supermodels. Maybe for some, but anorexia has been reported since the 17th Century. I’m pretty sure Victoria Secret Angels weren’t around then.. It is in fact, in most cases, due to a complete lack of self-esteem and self-worth. This is why comments are particularly damaging. They are, ironically, feeding the illness. The term ‘anorexic’ tends to be thrown around a lot these days. Being slim is a very different thing to having anorexia nervosa and I can’t stress this enough. Anorexia is not a phase or a fad that someone will grow out of. It’s serious. It carries a 13% mortality rate and many people suffer long-term physical and psychological consequences. I’ve been recovered for a while now but I found out the other day, I am, for the time being, infertile. Did I do that to myself to look good or do you think that maybe, just maybe, I was actually ill?
So think twice before you make a comment, catch yourself before you stare and make an attempt to understand. At the very least ignore the myths. People with anorexia are still human. Remember, something that could take you 10 seconds to say could affect them for years.