Over the past few weeks, I have been one of the Young Ambassadors helping Beat with their new training for teachers called ‘Early intervention: Spot The Signs’. The training is there to help people working with school students to spot the signs of eating disorders as early as possible and to learn how to support someone experiencing an eating disorder. There have been some really inspiring and eye-opening discussions which have given me lots of ideas for new blog posts. So first up: why is awareness in schools, as well as early intervention, so important?
It’s quite simple. School is a place where young people spend the majority of their week. They may even stay after school to play in the orchestra or go to the library. They are surrounded by peers and teachers for most of that time, so any change in behaviour may be more noticeable than at home. Often, young people also find it easier to speak to peers or teachers than to their parents. This is not because the parent has done something wrong, it is just that the relationship’s dynamic is often different. Furthermore, an eating disorder is often used as a means of coping with difficult situations, so if a parent was to know about these struggles with food and eating, the young person might fear that they will be observed 24/7 by their parents and will therefore lose the one thing that they feel helps them to cope. You can imagine how scary the thought of losing your one and only coping mechanism would be!
But why do we need to intervene so quickly? Well, the quicker someone can access the support they need, the easier it is for them to recover. It’s like any illness, wait longer and it gets worse and harder to treat. I am definitely NOT saying that someone who hasn’t accessed treatment quickly can’t recover – it is possible for ANYBODY to make a full recovery. But why wait? By training teachers to spot the signs, we are adding an earlier layer of intervention and helping many of the estimated 20% of young people who display eating disorder symptoms. This can potentially save these young people from years of suffering in silence and instead, allow them to get the help they need so they can live a life free from their eating disorder.
So many people are afraid of saying the wrong thing, and therefore don’t say anything at all. It’s completely understandable why people feel this way. But just think, if you do ask those questions, you might open a door and give a young person the opportunity to speak out. It might not be straight away, in fact it may take a while for them to finally accept that there is a problem, but just knowing you care and are there to talk to really can make a difference to a young person’s life. That’s why early intervention is so important. It opens that door.
As difficult as it may be, ask the person how they really are, or talk to them about what you have noticed. A bit of compassion can go such a long way. If you are afraid of saying the wrong thing, just remember that we all make mistakes. If someone’s reaction indicates that you didn’t quite say the right thing, talk to them about it. Calmly ask them what it was you said that upset them, and what you could say next time instead.
And don’t forget, Beat are on hand to help. If you’re worried about someone, have a look at the information on their website: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/recovery-information/worried-about-friend. Beat also have weekly support groups and helplines which you can use if you feel unsure where to turn or who to talk to.
And one final point. If you know or are caring for someone with an eating disorder, it can be a very difficult and distressing time for you too. Whether it being utilising the helpline, meeting for a coffee with a friend, or making some time for yourself each day, remember that you deserve support and help too! Looking after yourself will also allow you to be a better support to your loved one and it will help to show them how important self-care really is.
Onwards and upwards,
Rose Anne x