The support a person with an eating disorder receives from family, partners and friends can play a vital role in helping them move towards recovery. However, providing such support can be practically and emotionally challenging for the supporter, especially when they are also trying to keep up with a whole range of other responsibilities, such as working, studying, or caring for children or elderly parents. Often, those who care for someone with an eating disorder will want to help the person in any way they can, but may not be sure of the best way to provide support.
Caring for someone with an eating disorder can be stressful, and carers often feel lonely, distressed, anxious, and even guilty as a result. Research has found that, in comparison with people who don’t have caring responsibilities, carers have significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression. Carers may feel that their own struggles and needs are less important than those of the person they care for, and that they don’t have very much support available to help them deal with the difficulties that can arise when supporting someone with a serious eating disorder.
Within a unique collaboration between carers, people recovered from an eating disorder, and mental health professionals with expertise in eating disorders, researchers at King’s College London have developed an online skills training programme, known as ‘We Can’, specifically designed to provide information, skills and support to carers of people with anorexia nervosa. In earlier pilot studies, this programme has been found to reduce carer distress and those carer behaviours that may keep the person’s eating disorder going. Put differently, the programme gives carers the mindset and skills that empower them to help the person with anorexia move towards recovery.
The We Can programme consists of eight online modules, focused on helping carers to build skills to better be able to support someone with anorexia. The modules cover a range of topics, including:
Carers are able to work through the modules at their own pace, building new skills, which they can then put into practice in order to support their loved ones. Carers will also have access to an online forum, where they are able to communicate with other carers. Through use of the forum, carers will be able to work together to problem-solve, exchange ideas, share coping strategies, and find support from people in similar situations.
The We Can programme is part of a larger project, known as the ICare consortium, and is funded by a grant from the European Commission (Horizon 2020). ICare brings together researchers from across Europe, to establish a base of evidence for online interventions within the field of mental health. As the We Can programme is currently being tested as part of a research project, there are some criteria that carers must meet in order to be eligible to participate. These include:
If you care for someone with anorexia, and are interested in taking part, you are able to access the study website directly by visiting this link, and clicking ‘create an account’, or to find out more information, please contact the KCL research team by sending an email to email@example.com.
As the We Can programme is part of a research project, it has been designed specifically for carers of adults with anorexia. However, if you care for someone with a different eating disorder, or someone under the age of 16, you are able to access support from other carers via the Beat message boards, and can also read about other carers’ experiences. Additionally, it might be helpful to ask your local GP whether there are any local carer support groups available, as an additional way to meet others in a similar situation.
Contributed by Lucy from King’s College London
Twitter: @kingsedresearch / @FREEDfromED