By Jodi Jaspan, MS, LPC
At least 30 million people will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, and eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to data from ANAD. Given these facts, it’s important to raise awareness of these dangerous illnesses so that people know how to get help for themselves or loved ones.
February is National Eating Disorders Awareness Month. In honor of the occasion, here are some ways you can raise awareness in your community about eating disorders.
Improve Your Own Understanding of Eating Disorders
Before you can educate others about eating disorders, you should take time to improve your own understanding. There are many free online resources, but be careful. Information that is not coming from a reputable organization could be inaccurate.
Beginning to understand these illnesses is a great first step in being able to advocate for those who do have eating disorders.
Spread Awareness on Social Media
Social media opens up many possibilities for raising awareness. You can quickly reach a large number of friends and family at once. You can even change the settings on posts to make them publicly visible. Here are some ideas for material to share:
- Informational videos
- Short blog posts or in-depth articles
- Your own personal story
Write about Your Experiences
If you or a loved one has gone through an eating disorder, you can turn your experience into a powerful advocacy tool. There are many blogs about eating disorders and other mental illnesses that accept personal story submissions. You could even submit an opinion piece to a local newspaper.
Facts and statistics are good for conveying information, but personal stories can have a powerful emotional impact.
Attend Eating Disorder Events or Host Your Own
February is National Eating Disorders Awareness Month. Many organizations and communities host events in honor of the occasion. There are national events, like the annual NEDA Walk, that are hosted at different locations around the country. There may even be local events near you. You could also host your own local event. Consider bringing in a guest speaker with knowledge of eating disorders, allowing people to share their personal experiences, or anything else you can think of to raise awareness.
Rent a Booth at Community Events
Your community probably has a variety of events throughout the year. You could set up a booth at one of these events and provide eating disorders information. Print out fact sheets to give out to visitors at your booth. If you have something fun to hand out as well, that can draw people in. You might give away bracelets that have been customized with a message about eating disorders, or pens with the name of a local treatment center.
Speak Up When You Hear Misconceptions
There are a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders. Some of the common ones include:
- Young white women are primarily affected.
- Eating disorders are a choice.
- People who have eating disorders eat very little.
People can even make light of these disorders, or express a desire to be dangerously thin. Whenever you hear these types of remarks, speak up and remind people that eating disorders are a serious, life-threatening illness.
Get Screened for an Eating Disorder
Get screened for an eating disorder, and encourage others to do so. Many people struggle with an eating disorder without even realizing it. They may think they are eating healthy and staying fit. It’s important to keep in mind that even well-intentioned diets can stray into disordered eating habits.
If you have children, it’s important to make sure they are screened. Ask your primary care provider about early warning signs of an eating disorder. Although these illnesses often manifest in adolescence, they can occur in young children as well.
Of course, National Eating Disorders Awareness Month isn’t the only time to practice these activities. We should be advocating for awareness year-round. Use this month to build body positive habits for the rest of the year!
Jodi Jaspan is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and serves as the Director of Business Development for Seeds of Hope, an eating disorder treatment program in Pennsylvania. Seeds of Hope serves people of all genders and aims to create a safe and welcoming space for all.