Youth and Mental Health 101
Mental health challenges in youth
What is an eating disorder?
Food and weight fixations can lead to physical and emotional problems. When thoughts, feelings and behaviours related to managing food and weight begin to interfere with your everyday activities, you may have an eating disorder. 1 Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa , bulimia nervosa , binge eating disorder and others.
People who struggle with their identity and self-image may be more likely to develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders can also be a product of family’s, friends’ or society’s expectations about how someone should behave.2
An eating disorder can be a person’s way of controlling their world when they feel they have lost control over other parts of their lives. This can happen during stressful events or feelings. People with eating disorders often describe feeling powerless.3
How eating disorders might affect you
If you have an eating disorder, you may experience worries and fears about food, eating and exercise, which can build up and take over your life. These worries may cause you to feel that you’re not good enough or to compare yourself to others, which may make you anxious, angry or sad. You may become stressed and feel you are losing a sense of control over your life.4 Some signs that you may be struggling with an eating disorder include:5
Eating disorders: Beyond the myths (3:30)
The NEDIC team discusses myths, facts and false stereotypes surrounding eating disorders, as well as signs and red flags. They also provide suggestions for youth dealing with eating disorders.
Text: In January, a documentary film crew visited the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) to find out the true cost of eating disorders.
Darren Christiansen, documentary filmmaker: I’ve come to realize that there are many conflicting messages surrounding eating disorders. Many Canadians, like me, aren’t aware, or confused about the condition. I wanted to get some real honest answers.
I mean, you must get a lot of calls from young girls considering, like, they’re probably really the only ones that have eating disorders.
Jeahlisa, staff, program assistant: Well, no, that’s a really huge myth that’s still being perpetuated by society. It’s not just girls who have eating disorders, it can be males, as well. Eating disorders can affect anyone from all walks of life. So, we definitely don’t just receive calls from girls.
Darren Christiansen: People can go on the internet anytime and access all this information. What’s the point in having the hotline in the first place?
Robin, staff, direct client support: Having someone who can help you navigate all the different options that are available is a really valuable thing. And also having someone who can listen to you, and who can validate you, and knowing that there’s someone out there who is listening is really big for a lot of people. And that’s something that the helpline offers.
Text: Nearly 1 million Canadians are diagnosed with an eating disorder. Many report symptoms but go undiagnosed.
Darren Christiansen: We look at magazines and print publications of any kind, and these beautiful, thin modelesque people—it’s widely known they’re Photoshopped, it’s not very real—yet people strive to want to look like that. It has to be vanity and a lifestyle choice for these people that have eating disorders.
Julia, volunteer, outreach and education: So eating disorders are not a choice, which is a huge misconception. They are a mental illness, just like depression is, just like anxiety. And they’re meant to be taken seriously. And I think there’s a lot of stigma about eating disorders because people think they are choice. And a lot of times people think the solution to it is simple, like, just eat and everything will be better. But it’s absolutely not like that. Like anything, it’s hard for people to even recognize that they might have an eating disorder, they may be in denial about it.
Text: Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
Sara, staff, admin assistant: Eating disorders are really serious mental illnesses. And anorexia, for example, is one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness.
Text: It can take 2 to 7 years to recover from an eating disorder. And it is estimated that 50% of individuals will fully recover.
Darren Christiansen: So speaking of body-based bullying, does it really play a significant role in eating disorders at all?
Marabella, staff, outreach & education coordinator: Yes, definitely.
Darren Christiansen: How?
Marabella: Because the number one reason why kids are being bullied at school is because of the way that they look. There is this fear of fatness, and this weight bias that develops at such an early age, that kids might be prone to developing eating disorders because they’re being influenced by bullies.
Darren Christiansen: People with eating disorders seem very secretive. They don’t want to tell anybody. So if they don’t confide in you, they don’t trust you, they’re not going to tell you. So what are the signs? How do you know if there’s an issue?
Jeahlisa: Well, I mean, there are so many other warning signs and red flags that people can look out for, you know, if they have a loved one out there around all the time, they may notice that they’re chronically dieting, counting calories, maybe using laxatives and diuretics. So there are other warning signs that one can look out for—and that’s why we have our helpline. If you notice those red flags, you notice those warning signs, you can reach out to us.
Text: An estimated 1,500 Canadians will die each year as a result of the life-threatening medical complications of eating disorders.
Darren Christiansen: What advice would you give to someone either with an eating disorder, or someone who knows someone with one? What would you say to them?
Marabella: I think, to not be afraid to talk about it. That there are resources like NEDIC out there for you.
Robin: To someone who knows someone who has an eating disorder, I would just remind them to be supportive, nonjudgmental and loving, and really make sure that that person understands they can come and talk to you if they’re going through something. Because there’s a lot of shame around this and knowing that they can open up and be in comfortable, safe, accepting space will give people the courage to come and talk to you.
Darren Christiansen: Thank you so much.
Text: For more information visit NEDIC.ca or call 10866-NEDIC-20 or 416-340-4156.
1. NEDIC, 2014
2. NEDIC, 2014
3. NEDIC, 2014
4. PHAC, 2015c
5. Hopewell, 2013