When Professional Help Is Not Enough

So we’ve spent a large part of the day trying to get help for a friend who is seriously anorexic.  She is literally unable to eat, dizzy, confused and exhausted. She feels fat and is terrified at the thought of putting on weight.  Despite this, she’s been brave enough to go to the GP and ask for help.  Given the nature of the disorder, I cannot emphasise what a huge step this has been. Finally, she can get the care she needs.

Or can she?

Her GP wants to keep her out of hospital, as it offers refeeding but little in the way of emotional support.  This means that she’s been placed on a long waiting list (several months at least), for the massively overburdened NHS eating disorder services. Despite the fact that she is on the verge of collapse, currently she is not classed as an urgent case.  Priority is given to those with extra complications, such as diabetes or pregnancy. If and when she does get onto this programme, it can offer a once a week appointment as an outpatient. This is not the fault of the doctors or the hospitals. But it is not enough.

Her GP is going to see her again in another week’s time to see how much more weight she has lost. In the interim, if she deteriorates, they suggested she go to the nearest A+E. When she and her husband went to A+E, they were referred back to the GP. Who is off today.

We have phoned every eating disorder helpline we can find and they all say the same thing, ‘sorry, but there is just no provision for her.  Unless she collapses no-one can help.’

A one-off case?

Four and a half years ago, my husband and I went to the GP.  I said that I had a history of anorexia and was worried because it was something that was starting to get out of control.  My GP suggested I try eating cheese.

Two months later, I went back, a stone lighter.  This time, my GP referred me as an urgent case to the NHS.  Six months later (and much thinner), I was sent an appointment.   The NHS specialists told me that I was within the weight range for anorexia and seriously unwell.  However, they could only offer intensive support if I lost more weight.  So I did. And recovery came by God’s grace – but the long-term implications for my health have been irreversible and debilitating.

The NHS is massively overburdened.  Recently I spoke with a consultant who confirmed what I already knew – limited resources are available for only the most serious cases – those who are actually dying. This means that there is little available for those who seek help at an earlier stage, before long-term damage has been done. But evidence shows that the longer you have an eating disorder, the more difficult it is to make a recovery.

It’s easy to point the finger and apportion blame.  It’s much harder to suggest a way forward.  But surely God’s people have a massive part to play. Medical expertise is only a part of the solution – and within our congregations, even that may be available.  We need  a miracle.  But if miracles can’t happen in the church, then where else do we turn?

I’m not a doctor.
But I am a Christian.
What difference does this make?

To start with, I remember not just who I am, but who my Lord is. The Great Healer. The Doctor for the sick. And the government is upon His shoulders, not mine. He is the Saviour, not me.  But He can use me, if I let Him.

I am filled with the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. And I’m not alone. I’m part of a body of believers.  What we do in His strength makes all the difference in the world to those who are suffering.

As a church, we are the family they may not have. We can fight for those who are too weary to pick up their own weapons. How? By praying for those who don’t have the strength to lift themselves. And by loving them and getting around them. And asking, how can we help?  And keeping on asking.  And doing. And not giving up on those who have given up on themselves.

What are we doing to help those who are struggling?  With eating disorders, with alcoholism, with addictions?  Are we pretending they’re not there?  Referring them to the specialists and then moving on? When Glen and I were trying to get help, what was hardest to deal with were people in the church referring us to professionals and professionals telling us the problems were too big. What helped most was a Christian we didn’t even know, who responded to an email and came and sat with us and listened.

My friend is struggling right now, not just with the battle to eat, but of how to spend her time. With loneliness. With household chores. With shame and fear. With shopping.

What she and her husband need most are not answers.  They need people who are not afraid to enter their mess.  To just be there, with them.  To keep them company, pray for them, take some of the pressures off.  They need help with money.  They need people to come into their home, to cook and clean.  To sit with them, encourage them, remind them that they are not on their own and that they don’t need to be ashamed. To point them to Christ. That’s what help looks like.  That’s the shape of love. And it’s the shape of you and me.

4 thoughts on “When Professional Help Is Not Enough

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for posting this…this is great. I am in a situation right now where I’ve been through and am coming out on the other end of being seriously abused in almost every way and now a dear friend of mine is at the beginning stages of something similar. I am so frustrated that she doesn’t see it after seeing me go through it and it is so hard for me to keep trying to point it out to her and point her to the true character of Christ after someone has distorted that for their own control. Your article helped encourage me to keep encouraging her. Thank you.

  2. Often I’ve found the hardest thing is when people as ‘what can I do to help or make it easier?’ and I just don’t know the answer to that question. Because in many ways I know what I need to do: eat, regularly, consistently and enough and not exercise for 2+ hours at a time … But moving from knowledge to changed behaviour is hard. And when the battle in your head is so loud, itcan be incredibly hard to admit that a bowl of cereal with skim milk has become something that you ate physically afraid of and is so anxiety provoking that you want to scream.

    Yet speaking out in that fear, admitting how scared you are and asking people to sit with you while you eat but not be the food police, asking them to initiate meals when you are around over lunch, because even though you know you need to eat it can be so very hard to be the one to say ‘shall we get some lunch?’. To tell people that while you need them to not be the food police that you do need to eat carbs and protein and fats, so a plate of salad leaves, while marginally better than not eating at all is just not enough.

    My friends have been incredibly kind and understanding, yet I still find it hard to admit that I am struggling. I know it is hard for them too, but it is an incredible blessing when they take the initiative to ask how I am, to offer to eat with me and to not take silence as a sign that everything is ok, but rather as a loud warning bell that the wheels may be falling off.

  3. Hi Marissa

    Thanks for your comments and your honesty. I’m so sorry that your experience has been so painful. But for your friend – even though she may not see it at the moment, your love and shared struggles will be able to reach and minister to her much more powerfully than if you weren’t able to identify with them. The down side of this is your frustration at seeing it being played out in front of you – but your willingness to be there for her and to point her to Jesus is exactly what she needs, even though it is so costly to you.

  4. Hi M

    Thanks so much. It’s such a horrible, horrible thing – but your suggestions on how to love and support those in a similar situation are exactly what are needed to help fight it. Praying for you.

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