Anorexia recovery prepared me for this pandemic, our young people need support to get through.

An anonymous #MadCovidDiaries, 21.06.20

TW: Eating disorders

When I was 15 and busily preparing for my GCSEs, I was diagnosed with anorexia. I was scared, I was lost, but I was going into school.

A teacher alerted myself and my family to the fact that anorexia was a problem for me. The teacher linked us up with healthcare professionals to help me dig myself out of the black hole I’d fallen into.

Anorexia is the most fatal mental illness. I am lucky to have a robust safety net and support system to guide me through recovery – that teacher, a nutritionist, psychologist and parents who lovingly learned with me.

The want to do well in my upcoming GCSE exams meant anorexia didn’t completely dominate my mind. The months of summer holiday that followed was spent eating between medical appointments to achieve a healthy weight. Hugs from friends gave rest-bite from the mental strain caused by my stretching body and unrelenting anorexic mind. I was able to go back to school in September.

Its ten years later and a burger can still present as a threat. But, I have a comprehensive toolkit of healthier habits to cope with my misdirected fears and anxiety. I use the same tools to handle challenges to my mental health caused by weeks of ‘social distancing’ and the constant exposure of deepening cracks in the world as I knew it.

I feel for young people whose milestone moments have been shattered whilst isolated at home. Whether that be their first ‘big’ exams, their fresh start at University, a first job or apprenticeship. All in the context of global suffering that is set to fall most heavily on those already excluded and marginalised.

Eating disorders are caused by multiple and complex environmental and genetic factors. I channelled insecurities about my future and position in society into anorexia. An unhealthy but temporarily effective coping strategy.

Recent years have seen an admirable shift in the UK to open up conversations on mental health, and invest in mental health services. For example, in the NHS ‘Five Year Forward View’ and the ‘Time to Change’ campaign.

But we’re still poorly equipped to support young people struggling with their mental health. To start, a ten minute GP appointment to access services can only identify the most extreme cases where medication and sticky-plaster services may be too little, too late.  

An increase in eating disordered content on apps like TikTok show young people are suffering. An explosion of diet-related-quarantine-memes show it’s all too easy to be complicit. And as young people head into the summer holidays, plans cancelled and feeling they’ve missed their milestone moments, we need to do more to make sure they have their mental health safety nets.

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