By Nicholas Watts
Football, Rugby and beer, three things guaranteed to get a lot of men talking! But if I was to walk into that same room and bring up the subject of eating disorders, deathly silence. That silence would be followed by the usual assumptions that eating disorders are a “girl’s illness” and “oh that’s what model’s get”. So when it comes to getting help, are we so surprised that men just don’t come forward?
The first step into making sure more people feel able to seek help is to break down the stigma attached to eating disorders, after all if it is more accepted by the general population men will be less likely to feel ashamed or embarrassed about seeing their doctor. We can achieve this through media campaigns, awareness events and committed people and organisations to spread the word, encouraging men to talk about their issues and not feel worried about admitting there is a problem, but this, although a massive hurdle in itself is only half the battle.
Too often I hear from Men how they finally pluck up that all important courage to see the doctor, sometimes after many a sleepless night and many a cancelled appointment, only to find that when they finally walk through that door, that doctor doesn’t recognise it as an eating disorder. Far too often male sufferers are told they are depressed, and given anti-depressants that due to wonderful marketing are thought to be some kind of cure all. As well as hearing this from a lot of other people I know it all so well, as it took a doctor nearly 14 months to finally realise that indeed I was depressed but it was my problems with eating fuelling it.
Just like the general population, the stigma’s surrounding eating disorders very much exist within the healthcare sector, with doctors and other professionals often under the same impression that they affect a single gender. When we speak to professionals we often hear about that one case they have dealt with, regarding it almost as an exception to the unwritten rules of eating disorders.
Unlike the stigma attached to them, eating disorders don’t discriminate and can affect anyone, of any age, gender & sexuality. It’s a simple message, but one that needs to be sent out to the healthcare community to improve the way they deal with that all important first visit. It simply is not good enough to diagnose it a year or two down the line. If it was a female sat in front of them it would have been a diagnosis at the forefront of the doctors mind, because the harsh reality is they carry those same misconceptions.
So finally you have that all important diagnosis, you know what is wrong with you and your ready to tackle it head on, but are these services equipped to deal with male sufferers?
If you walk into many of the UK’s eating disorder specialist centres you will notice one thing that has always stuck out for me, the decoration. When these centres were built they were designed for women, feminine in appearance, all the literature geared towards women and their leaflets about eating disorders full of pictures of emaciated women. Despite how insignificant these small details may seem alone, the reality is they make a big difference and could quite easily put any male off from using that service. When men engage with staff it is a similar scenario, they are used to dealing with female cases, I have heard some men who have referred to themselves as an experiment for that service, because the staff make such an issue of pointing out that this is the first male case they have dealt with. It may well be the case that it is a first or even a second, but if you were to constantly hear that from someone, would that put your mind at ease? Would you be convinced you were in the right place to help you?
This sometimes poor provision leads to a lot of men seeking help privately, through counsellors, psychotherapists and indeed private hospitals in order to find the reassurance they need to help them through recovery. The NHS treatment for all sufferers is still lacking in key areas, and the only way they are going to solve this is by re-thinking the way they approach treatment. They still do help a lot of people, and lots of people do recover through the help the NHS provide. But ask yourself this, when dealing with an illness such as an eating disorder, is that really good enough? Or do sufferers deserve more?
For more information and support for male sufferers go to www.mengetedstoo.co.uk
Introduction to me and MGEDT
My name is Nick Watts, Im 25 and I live in Oxford in the UK, I have throughout my teenage years suffered from an eating disorder and since the age of 22 would consider myself recovered. The road to recovery is certainly a challenging one and I think you learn so much about yourself. To an extent I would say my recovery has defined who I am, and what my goals are to this day. I hope to turn my experiences into positive ones by helping others who are going through the same thing I did. I am a trustee for the leading voice for males who suffer from eating disorders, the UK based organisation Men Get Eating Disorders Too.
As an organisation we offer support and advice to men who suffer from eating disorders, and provide information to friends, family and people just interesting in the subject. Our website www.mengetedstoo.co.uk is full of information from signs & symptoms, treatment options, links to local support groups and a forum for men to make contact with other men experiencing the same difficulties. We are also frequently in the media and attending events to push that very simple message that Men Get eating disorders Too!
For men in the Brighton area of the UK we run a peer support group, which provides men a safe space to talk about their difficulties, but also discuss recovery and strategies to achieve it. More recently we have started offering training workshops to healthcare professionals to educate them on the difficulties men face getting help and the treatment and service barriers that exist.