A third of individuals suffering eating disorders are not endorsed to a mental health service for proper treatment when they visit a doctor, a new survey reveals.

The findings from UK eating disorder charity Beat prompted calls anew for medical practitioners to better pick up on signs of a disorder, such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa.

Survey Findings

Interviewing 1,420 eating disorder patients, the charity found that the conditions went undetected during doctor visits in three out of 10 cases, with half of patients rating the care they received from a general practitioner “poor” or “very poor.” In 358 people, there was not a referral made to a mental health provider despite the need as emphasized by current medical guidance.

Fifty-five percent felt their doctor did not understand the value of early intervention, while 34 percent said they believed their physician did not know how to help.

Only one in five doctors offered information on the disorders or cited services that could assist, while nearly one in six patients moved to a different doctor after failing to get the care they were looking for. They afterwards disclosed a more positive outcome, the survey added.

“It takes great courage for sufferers … to come forward and often the first person they talk to is their GP,” said Beat chief executive Andrew Radford in an Independent report, stressing the critical role of early intervention and speed of referral to proper medical channels.

The charity, while saying it is not blaming physicians, harped on the need to train medical students better in recognizing and support eating disorder patients.

Heightened Awareness Of Eating Disorders

In the UK, it’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week until March 5, an annual event when charities as well as campaigners gather for a week of activities aimed at raising awareness on the range of eating conditions.

Psychotherapist Trish Shiel, also clinical manager at the Eating Disorder Center Cork (EDCC), echoed the need to intervene and prevent the disorders early.

“An eating disorder, because of its very nature, is often not caught early. Because it’s a coping mechanism for people, they don’t often want to admit that they have an eating disorder,” Shiel said, warning that by the time the sufferer looks for help the disorder is already “an entrenched well-established illness.”

There are signs and personality types predisposed to the problem, Shiel explained. The typical patient is usually highly sensitive, acutely anxious, and worries a lot, and he or she is plagued by an internal voice that is “being very abusive.”

“The inner voice says very pejorative things like ‘you’re disgusting, you’re fat, you’ll never amount to anything,’” she added.

According to U.S. nonprofit organization National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), there are at least 30 million individuals of all ages and genders suffering from an eating disorder in the United States, with at least a person dying from it every 62 minutes. Eating disorders incur the most number of deaths of any mental illness.

In women over age 50, 13 percent engage in eating disorder behaviors, while 16 percent of transgender college students reported having the condition. Studies agree that eating disorders generally affect all races and ethnic groups.

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