Some of you may have seen the local news story about anorexia the other day. Of course, I support anyone with an eating disorder getting the support they need, but I found the news story to be so inappropriate in so many ways, a few of which I will detail here.
As my patients know, one of my huge pet peeves is the use of the words "anorexic" and "bulimic." When I wrote my dissertation, which was largely on cutting, I drove my advisor nuts because I refused to write the word, "cutter," and instead made my dissertation significantly longer, I am sure, by writing "individuals who engage in self-harm" and similar phrases. So, here's the point: Do you call someone who has cancer, cancer-ic? No, you don't. So, why would someone with anorexia be "an anorexic." The person is not his or her disorder, and in fact, identifying with the disorder is one of the major hurdles to overcome in treatment. So, hearing "anorexic" over and over was very upsetting. This patient did not need to identified as her disorder. She is a person, with a disorder; she is not actually a disorder.
News stories seem to feel such pull to glamorize eating disorders also. Maybe glamorize is not quite the right word. But, they feel the need to show exactly what symptoms the person engages in, his/her weight, etc. All the things that those with eating disorders compete over. So, maybe the news story helped those who know absolutely nothing about EDs understand what behaviors make up an ED, but I was frustrated because I knew those with EDs who were watching the story were being triggered right and left. Some simple research on the part of the reporters would have helped them understand the disorder better, and know what they decided to focus on not only is not unique, but likely triggering to others with the disorder about which they were trying to educate.
So, what could the story have been about instead? How about using this woman's story, without all the details, to present the message that there needs to be greater insurance coverage for treatment? There would have been a lot of benefit to trying to engage people in the fight against insurance companies, or to strengthen laws regarding mental healthy parity. People left that news story knowing what symptoms make up anorexia, and one individual that has the disorder. So much more good could have been done by focusing less on the details, and more on what needs to change within our healthcare system when it comes to eating disorder treatment and coverage.
I want to make it clear I am not criticizing the woman in the piece. She has an eating disorder and deserves access to treatment and, I'm assuming, took the steps she thought could help her get help. I'm criticizing those who were more in the position to treat this story differently, and create greater benefit.
Update: I was just called by the new outlet to come on air live for their follow up story. I refused on principle, and let them know my concerns with their approach to this story. So, hopefully the information I gave them will help change their approach in follow up.