Eating disorders charity Beat calls for more understanding on World Mental Health Day
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Research by East Anglian-based eating disorders charity Beat has found that one in three sufferers experience stigma and discrimination at work. On World Mental Health Day the charity is calling for more understanding. Sheena Grant reports.
When Christina Taylor was 13 she was diagnosed with an eating disorder but with help and support from her family thought she'd recovered.
However, five years later, while at university, Christina relapsed.
'I had to take responsibility for feeding myself and also I didn't have to hide the symptoms of vomiting from my parents,' she says. 'I became very unwell, was unable to do my year abroad and eventually went into inpatient care a week after I finished my final exams as I could barely stand due to malnutrition, excessive vomiting and laxative abuse.
'I very much feel that having to 'feed myself' for the first time was the catalyst for this, as well as the colossal pressure I put on myself to achieve.
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'What would have helped me most is if I'd been giving coping strategies for looking after myself before I went to uni. Being on my own for the first time with no-one to answer to was overwhelming.'
'I would like to consider myself much recovered now although I still have challenges to overcome but I have two young children now, so I have them and my husband to work hard at being well for.'
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Christina, now 32, from Norwich, isn't alone in struggling with mental ill health at university.
Rebecca Quinlan, 29, actually developed an eating disorder during her first year at university, when she was 19.
'Within eight months I had lost nearly half my body weight. I could barely walk or talk but I had gone unnoticed by staff, even though one of my lessons involved getting into a swimming costume once a week,' says Rebecca, from Chelmsford. 'I was a competitive athlete and was training with quite elite people. I thought that if I was thinner I would run faster and, coupled with the stress of being away from home, this led me to get ill.
'It was left to my flatmates to call my parents who came to take me home, from which I spent the next three years in and out of hospital. When I returned to university after three years away, whilst the disability centre offered help and support, the admin and many academic staff did not. They were very inflexible with time-tabling and giving advance notice, making it difficult for me to arrange medical appointments where I was living at home three hours away.'
Norwich-based eating disorders charity Beat says that sadly such attitudes are not uncommon, both in education and the workplace. As part of this year's World Mental Health day, which falls today, it is calling on employers and universities to be responsible and replace stigma and misunderstanding with support and empathy.
According to the charity, mental health problems are all-too common in the workplace and are the leading cause of sickness absence. In 2016 it conducted research which found that one in three eating disorder sufferers experience stigma or discrimination at work. The charity surveyed more than 650 people and found 40% said their employer's impact on their recovery was 'unhelpful' while two thirds were unable to access support for their eating disorder at work.
The charity says support and understanding for those with eating disorders at university is also an area of concern. In fact, it adds, universities are not dissimilar from work places in that students spend a good part of their day there.
Beat's director of external affairs, Tom Quinn, said: 'On this day it is crucial to highlight eating disorders and their implications for somebody who works or studies at university. Often, employees with eating disorders present little difficulty at work and excel at their job. Whatever difficulties they have, they are likely to make strenuous efforts to keep their illness to themselves to avoid their disorder being noticed. Workplaces can play an active role in tackling stigma and supporting a person's recovery by making reasonable adjustments. For this reason, the stigma and misunderstanding experienced by so many in the workplace must be replaced with support and understanding led by a formal mechanism of support.'
An eating disorder is a disability, meaning employees have the same rights as someone with a physical disability, under the Equality Act 2010. This includes reasonable adjustments such as absence to attend appointments or lengthy treatments.
For more information on eating disorders visit www.b-eat.co.uk or call the helpline on 0808 801 0677.