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Time to Change the Stigma

During last year, I was filmed for a BBC mental health documentary called My Mind and Me. They filmed me as I battled through the arduous beginning stages of my anorexia recovery. During that process I was extensively asked what I feel needs to be changed in society and within the medical profession for wider exposure to the understanding of eating disorders.

I believe all surgeries in the UK need to have at least one doctor specialising in mental health. At least one doctor per practice whose sole job is to be the first point of reference for patients who are having issues with their mind. There are just as many mental illnesses as physical illnesses and this needs to be more widely acknowledged and understood.

I first went to my GP when I recognised I was having issues with food and exercise addiction. I was told my BMI wasn't low enough for me to be suffering with an eating disorder, which led me to being misdiagnosed and becoming very physically and mentally ill. If I had been correctly treated and listened to by someone who understood anorexia is a mental health issue and not a physical weight, perhaps me becoming so unwell could have been prevented.

It needs to be commonly known that eating disorders and anorexia aren’t about food and weight and body image. They are associated but not the same. I wish that people would stop blaming eating disorders on narcissism or vanity. It’s not an insecurity; it is a crippling mental illness that often stems from an inability to communicate feelings of discomfort, failure and rejection. They don’t develop from a diet gone wrong, or because you purge a few times; they develop because you are seeking a way to disappear and to numb and disconnect. Recovery doesn’t always mean you must love yourself all of the time, but living despite the obsessions, compulsions and maladaptive coping mechanisms. The poison and the cure are within the same person fighting, and it's time for medical professionals to understand this.

This movement will help alleviate stress off physical GPs, ensure patients are more listened to, avoid dangerous mental health issues arising and worsening and will allow mental health specialists to solely concentrate on this important area. It would also make counselling waiting lists shorter. A mental health specialist could refer patients on to specific counselling, advise on better medications or monitor them more closely. They can be more widely trained in the many different mental health issues. There also needs to be professional support there for not only the sufferers, but for the carers.

Despite feeling so good as I slowly began to recover through the simple process of weight gain, I realised I had spent the entire time feeling good because I had been counting what I was doing – every calorie still mentally logged in my head, continuous movement to burn off every excess. I was living the illusion that I had broken free, but in reality, I had just found new control methods and planted ways in which I could relapse. I can be surrounded by loving, caring, incredible people who never fail to support me, but I needed that professional help, I needed it to be recognised what I was going through mentally and not just physically.

Travel saved my life and as part of a three-month travel plan, I have just visited Australia where I completed a skydive. I raised over £500 in sponsorship. I wanted to show that no matter how far you fall, you can always land on your feet again.

Contributed by Laura