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Eating Disorders next to being unstudied in India. #mentalhealthawarenessweek

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Today 18 May, is the first day of Mental health awareness week, an initiative of Mental Health Foundation to spread awareness about various mental illnesses and provide help to the sufferers. 

Mental Illness is already neglected highly in India. While the illnesses are proliferating in every age group and need to be treated with utmost importance, the government along with the citizens are mostly avoiding it. A study reported in WHO estimated that at least 6.5 per cent of the Indian population suffers from some form of serious mental disorder, with no discernible rural-urban differences. There is an extreme shortage of psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors. As reported latest in 2014, it was as low as ”one in 100,000 people”

Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa, two eating disorders, are both prevalent in India. Bulimia is characterized by binge eating, followed by methods to avoid weight gain while Anorexia is characterized by low weight, food restriction, fear of gaining weight, and a strong desire to be thin. They both are caused by socio-cultural, psychological, and genetic factors.

While genetic factors cannot be ceased and psychological factors necessitate immediate therapy the social factors are in fact fabricated by us in everyday lives.

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Bulimia and Anorexia still remain the least researched and studied diseases if contrasted with other diseases. While studies that are far and few show high rates of Bulimia and Anorexia among Indians but still we treat it as an almost non-existing disease.

What are the Symptoms?

Anorexia- (from the healthline.com)

  • Purging for weight loss. ( Includes self-induced vomiting)
  • Obsession with Food, Calories, and Dieting
  • Changes in mood and emotional state
  • Distorted body image.
  • Denial of Hunger or refusal to eat.
  • Sudden extreme weight loss.

Bulimia –

  • long-term fear of gaining weight
  • comments about being fat
  • preoccupation with weight and body
  • a strongly negative self-image
  • binge eating
  • forceful vomiting.

The complication of Bulimia or Anorexia may result in Heart Disease, kidney failure, osteoporosis, anemia, nutritional deficiencies, and low level of blood sugar among many others.

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The Facts and Figures-

Men too suffer from eating disorders but according to experts, the rate is higher among women. “Disturbed eating attitudes and behavior affect about twenty-five to forty percent of adolescent girls and around twenty percent of boys. While on one hand there is increasing recognition of eating disorders in the country, there is also a persisting belief that this illness is alien to India. This prevents many sufferers from seeking professional help.” according to Dr. Udipi Gauthamadas, a Chennai-based neuro-behavioural medicine expert specialising in treating eating disorders.

Both boys and girls are affected by eating disorders from an early age however due to scarce awareness about these illnesses and the stigmatized society that we live in have silenced and veiled the predicament altogether. Due to professional help taken by very few patients, very rarely do people chose this as a vocation. According to Economic Times, WHO predicted that by 2020, roughly 20 per cent of India will suffer from mental illnesses. And to cater to this demographic, we have less than 4,000 mental health professionals.

Psychiatrists claim that in the past few years, the figure of eating disorders has increased from anything between five and 10 times. What is more worrying is that girls of a younger age are falling prey to anorexia and bulimia.

One study determined the rate of anorexia nervosa be ten per 100,000 in Indian males and 37.2 per 100,000 in Indian females.

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Stories of Survivors-

Buzzfeed shared confession from girls who were suffering or recovered from eating disorders.

My grandmother told me I had ‘arms like ham’ and was ‘getting chubby.’ I spent my entire childhood surrounded by weight stigma- whether it was from my grandmother constantly telling me to ‘go on diet’ or comparing my body to my friends.”

My diet left me with a failing liver, a problematic heart, hair loss, and osteopenia. I went into treatment for anorexia and fully came into terms with my disease and began to believe that I did not choose this,” “Anorexia was like a light switch that lived inside my brain, turned off for most of my life. The stigma surrounding weight is what turned it on.”

healthissuesindia.com

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At 12, I went on what I described as a “very strict diet.” I had no clue what anorexia was. I thought it was when someone literally never ate anything due to some underlying emotional problem, when, in reality, accordingly to my personal understanding and experience, it’s a disease that manifests in the mind; an utter fear of weight gain

Demi Lovato was also treated for bulimia and anorexia in 2010. She once said in an interview, “I lived fast and I was going to die young. I didn’t think I would make it to 21.” 
Lady Gaga revealed on her site Little Monsters that she’s struggled with anorexia and bulimia since the age of 15. She continues to encourage anyone struggling with body image, saying, “It’s really hard, but … you’ve got to talk to somebody about it.”
Actor Jacqueline Fernandez has also spoken about how she used to “punish myself by not eating at all” and binge-eating and purging, and how she continues to fight that battle.

These survivors tell us the tale of living under the stigma of being the right weight. Whether it is menstruation, a person’s skin color, sexual identity, or an illness everything comes fastened with stigmas and taboos. A person diagnosed with mental illness is already seen from wary eyes as they may showcase some peculiar or dangerous behavior, a person seeking professional help has some major disfunctioning in the brain while committal to mental asylum is IMMEDIATE detachment from the family. ( Who knows maybe it runs in the genes.)

With such preconceived ideas, we can’t fight or help the people fighting mental illness. Recovery is the only way, but recovery is also the hardest way. And with living in a stigmatized society it creates a massive and extremely difficult plight for people to share their experiences with others. Eating disorders need to be studied for the deterioration of rooted ideals of being thin. Howsoever being obese brings problems, it’s a personal choice and shouldn’t lead to the making of a blanket which even out only thin as the right body weight. It needs combined efforts of the youth to study psychological diseases taking into consideration the present need for it and of government to suffice the need of psychologists and psychiatrists and of society to cease the judgemental stigmas.

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Denying the existence of discrimination and ideal beauty and body standards has been used to define eating disorders as self-creation to validate the physical expectations of women that pervade in every facet of societal norms. Whether it is depression, anxiety, or eating disorders each issue requires attention and is a culmination of the fabricated notion of expectations, responsibilities, ideals, and standards preoccupying the mind of society. What we need is not the solution to the plight of mentally ill people but the solution to the troublesome mentally ill ideas.

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