The world of mental illness is a strange and lonely place. Too few victims receive treatment, mostly because they are ashamed of their afflictions and afraid of being judged. As a result, very little is known about the origins, and treatment often becomes a guessing game. One of the most prevalent mental illness stigmas surrounds eating disorders. While some disorders are more easily hidden from public view, the body is visible to everyone. Compulsive eating or exercising, starving oneself or eating scant amounts only to later purge; all have alarming and very visible consequences.
Individuals who suffer from eating disorders may have experienced abusive or otherwise non-validating childhood memories. Indeed, the evidence is usually visible in elementary school if an individual experiences tendencies toward mental illness. Sadly, less than eight percent of individuals who likely suffer from an eating disorder are correctly diagnosed. Of those diagnosed, even fewer receive life-saving treatment. Often, people fear the ramifications of being labeled an outcast. Those who actively seek treatment are frequently turned away because the cost associated with in-patient clinics is too expensive for the average person. For others, it is simply too late to receive treatment. By the time they finally seek or are forced into an emergency room, their condition is so frail that they do not survive.
Unfortunately this scenario is all too real and occurs because people suffering with these disorders do not believe they deserve help and do not believe it is even available to them. And the general public is either unaware or does not understand the problem of eating disorders, making the negative perceptions and judgments all the more prevalent.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel for those suffering from any form of eating disorder. Recently, the anti-depressant Prozac has been used to treat men and women suffering from a variety of eating disorders. One of the greatest results of the study is that the participants had an overall increase in positive, life affirming interactions. While the drug does not “cure” the eating disorder, it helps alleviate other, co-occurring symptoms of anxiety, stress, panic and depression.
When these feelings are reduced or eliminated, the impulse connected with over or under eating is severely curbed. As a result, individuals are able to more actively seek treatment and live a manageable lifestyle without being controlled by their illness. Prozac is certainly not a new medication, and has been introduced for multiple mental disorders with great success. It has very rare, if any, side-effects.
As for the participants who have lived with the causes and effects of their eating disorder for decades, any promise of help is welcome. Given that the medication is available at a very small fraction of the cost of in-patient treatment and is likely to be covered by insurance, almost everyone would be able to benefit from this treatment method. Coupled with ongoing therapy and behavior modification, Prozac could be the best friend of an individual living with an eating disorder.