It is estimated that approximately 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder and on average, 149 weeks pass before those experiencing eating disorder symptoms seek help, that’s almost three years. An eating disorder is a serious mental illness that involves disordered eating behaviour. The causes are still not fully recognised and the mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of any mental illnesses. It is therefore important to raise awareness and understanding around eating disorders and their associated symptoms.
School educators and staff can play a hugely important role in preventing eating disorders and in supporting students, peers and parents. Staff should be familiar with the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and available resources in order to facilitate early identification and support during treatment when needed.
Who Suffers from Eating Disorders?
It’s important to understand that anyone can develop an eating disorder – they can affect people of any age, race or gender. Whilst studies have suggested that young women between the ages of 12-20 are most at risk, it’s also suggested that up to 25% of people who suffer from eating disorders are male.
How Do You Spot Signs of an Eating Disorder?
To coincide with Eating Disorder Awareness Week, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, BEAT, commissioned a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 people. A staggering 34% of adults surveyed were unable to name any signs or symptoms of eating disorders.
There is clear evidence that early detection and appropriate intervention can significantly reduce the impact that eating disorders have on young people and increase the chance of a full recovery. School educators and staff are well placed to spot the early signs of an eating disorder; just think of all the time spent with pupils in a classroom setting, or even the school counsellor or nurse who may notice irregularities in students they see day in, day out.
You can read about the signs of individual eating disorders here. Nobody expects you to diagnose these complex illnesses but noticing symptoms could make all the difference. There are some signs that may become apparent in a school environment, as many young people begin restricting in school whilst maintain a normal eating behaviour at home. These might include:
What Can We Do to help?
The aim of Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) is to raise awareness and get people talking about eating disorders and the types of support available to those who are suffering.
Educational establishments can take steps to address eating disorders with policies and practices, in their curriculum, and with individuals at risk. Pupils with eating disorders will require particular attention to their educational needs and it may be necessary to adapt the learning environment to accommodate their needs.
Head to the BEAT website for more information and resources on identifying and supporting somebody with an Eating Disorder, online support groups and helpline information.
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