eating disorders and mental health
Published On: Apr 23, 2021|Categories: Eating Disorder Information, Treatment|

Eating disorders are unbelievably difficult to handle, mentally and physically, and it doesn’t make it any easier knowing that they are frequently accompanied by mental disorders. Not only is this important for clients to consider as they search for a therapist or ED treatment program, but it’s just as important for therapists to keep in mind when administering treatment.

What is a co-occurring disorder?

A co-occurring disorder, or dual diagnosis, is when a client suffers from two or more mental health conditions, one occurring as a result of the other. So, for example, someone who struggles with depression might also struggle with substance abuse as an attempt at self-medicating the effects of the depression. 

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for those suffering from an eating disorder to experience the effects of a mental health disorder as well. 

With dual diagnosis surrounding an eating disorder, it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. For some, anxiety will precede the eating disorder, but for others, anxiety will stem from the eating disorder. The same goes for depression and other co-occurring mental illness – what comes first is heavily dependent on the client’s own personal history. 

Common co-occurring disorders with an eating disorder

Studies show that 32-39% of clients struggling with anorexia nervosa, 36-50% struggling with bulimia nervosa, and 33% struggling with binge eating disorder were also diagnosed with a depressive disorder. In addition, 48-51% of people struggling with anorexia nervosa, 54-81% struggling with bulimia nervosa, and 55-65% struggling with binge eating disorder experienced a co-occurring anxiety disorder.

There are various mental health issues which may occur alongside an eating disorder, but some of the most common ones include: 

  • DepressionFor people struggling with anorexia, depression may occur as a result of incredibly restrictive eating. Excessive selectiveness in the type and amount of food put into the body means an increased likelihood for adverse mental effects. The brain requires proper nutrition to function and without the right amount of vitamins, minerals and proteins, severe mental problems can arise. In addition, those suffering from binge-eating disorder are more likely to be overweight, which can result in a depressed outlook on appearance or lifestyle habits. All in all, eating disorders strive towards a level of perfectionism and the inability to reach this unattainable goal can result in depression.
  • AnxietyApproximately two-thirds of people struggling with an eating disorder have struggled with anxiety at some point. One of the most common anxiety disorders that those with an eating disorder struggle with is OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). This can manifest in compulsive rituals surrounding food, such as cutting food into tiny bites or weighing it out piece by piece.
  • Substance useAn individual with an eating disorder is five times more likely to abuse substances, and someone already abusing substances is 11 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. This could be due to the fact that certain drugs stimulate or suppress appetite, while other substances like alcohol can contribute to the purging disorders like bulimia. All in all, substances severely impact diet and eating habits and can therefore directly impact an ED.
  • PTSD Connected primarily with binge-eating, PTSD can worsen the desire to binge eat as a means of suppressing PTSD’s side effects. In addition, those who struggle with eating disorders are more likely to be deeply affected by moments of intense stress, grief and trauma.

Can you treat a mental health disorder and eating disorder at the same time?

The short answer here is yes, they can be treated at the same time. Not only that, but they should be treated at the same time. As eating disorders can stem from a mental disorder, and vice versa, it’s not only suggested, but vital to the health of the client that both disorders are handled at the same time. Because if the depression which caused the eating disorder in the first place is not treated and only the eating disorder itself is healed, it won’t take long for that depression to potentially cause a relapse. 

Reach out for help

When treating an eating disorder, it is just as important to consider the entirety of the client and understand how the eating disorder impacts an individual, body, mind and soul. Complete and total recovery is only possible when all aspects of the person are touched, as an eating disorder extends far beyond the classification of simply a “problem with food.” No matter what co-occurring condition is present, our caring and compassionate therapists at Seeds of Hope can help achieve this entire recovery and return to a life of peace and freedom. 

For more information, call us today at 610-644-6464.

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