David Burrowes MP: Let’s shine a light on eating disorders

Let’s shine a light on eating disorders – the most hidden and highest mental health killer, writes David Burrowes MP.

‘That sparkle went from her eyes. She withdrew. She had mood swings. The changes are subtle. It’s difficult for friends and family to ever know for sure, ‘I questioned her about her “healthy eating” – “It’s fine Mum. Stop interfering. I’m just being healthy. So you back off.” But the end is so often the same - with continued weight loss, she had become very skeletal in appearance. She became abusive and violent. She told us she hated us and she hated herself...and wanted to die. “Please let me die Mummy”, she would scream...and then, the most heartbreaking, crying for comfort, “please Mummy, please Daddy, help me. Make it go away.” We felt completely helpless. And sadly, too often, doctors were unable to help.’

This account of my constituent's is similar to an increasing number of frightened parents and friends who tell of the same slow, steady, downward spiral. Today a cross party group of MPs will through Parliamentary debate shine a light on eating disorders in this week which is dedicated to raise awareness.

Eating disorders are on the rise in the UK with increases in hospital admissions (2290 yearly) and with the UK being one of the highest rates in all Europe. These are not minor illnesses. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Heart failure and suicide are the most common causes of death. Eating disorders affect all genders and ages, although the most vulnerable are teenagers. 25% of those affected at school age are now boys, whereas 10 years ago that figure was just 10%.

The aim of the debate is for MPs to raise awareness and help prevent and better treat eating disorders. The NICE Guidelines of 2004 stressed the importance of early intervention in order for patients of life-threatening conditions to achieve full recovery. But the pressure on existing services means that waiting lists for referrals to out-patient and in-patient services are growing. Anorexia & Bulimia Care (ABC), the leading national eating disorder charity reports that adult sufferers can wait up to 9 months or even a year to receive treatment. Insufficient training for GPs and other health professionals means that patients can be wrongly diagnosed or handled and not followed up and supported.

Parents complain that their needs and the important role they play in recovery (especially if their child is living at home) are ignored. Carer support services can be hard to find in a number of counties and many parents complain that they are excluded from care and offered little practical suggestions from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHs) or adult eating disorder services.

In this dark tunnel of eating disorders there is light and I have been impressed by many powerful stories of people in recovery from eating disorders supported by services like ABC. Today we want to highlight the problems but also the hope of a better future for individuals and families coping with eating disorders.