False Economy

Very interesting post by Ilona Burton (from yesterday’s Independent) on the true cost of eating disorders.

She writes:

“Today, Beat has published a report which found that the overall cost of eating disorders (including those to the NHS, employers and employees) to the English economy is a staggering £1.25billion per year.

…GP consultations on anorexia and bulimia cost £4.2m annually, so we need to get it right. Spending money on education, awareness and training would go a long way in decreasing the amount spent further down the line.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people say that the first time they spoke to a GP about their eating disorder was an absolute disaster. Some were told it was “just a phase”, some ignored as it’s not something that happens to men/older women/Afro-Caribbeans and an unbelievable amount of people say they were made to feel that they were not “ill enough”.

…This is not acceptable. Not many people with eating disorders can find it in themselves to ever even ask for help and it takes a hell of a lot of guts to do so. Your brain is constantly telling you not to give in; asking for help is weak, getting help is giving up. You’re never ill enough, never thin enough and never deserving enough to take up space, time or money. For logic to overcome that, for someone to reach out when they’re consumed with an illness that tells them not to, to then be told something which confirms those thoughts is simply outrageous.

Nobody responds well to being knocked back. People with eating disorders are highly likely to use that doctor’s comment or put-down as fuel. It will make them feel more invincible whilst at the same time more desperate than ever to prove that they are sick, fragile, frail and in need of help. That one appointment is a critical catalyst in one direction or the other.

After a few knock backs, maybe change GP. You get lucky, someone who understands! By then, you’re really ill, weak, tired, pale; a zombie. They refer you to a specialised unit. Waiting list: 12 months. You get worse still and you’re either sectioned, or your eating disorder eats more into your mind, doubling the length of your stay, when you finally get there.

The average cost of an inpatient bed for treatment of an eating disorder is £510 per day. I have been hospitalised twice. The first time: three months, followed by a year of outpatient treatment. The second: nine months. I’m currently two sessions away from finishing another 24-sessions with a counsellor. Hopefully, that’ll be it.

I can hardly even stand the thought of adding up the cost of my own treatment. In all honesty, it makes me feel physically sick knowing that it is probably somewhere over £10,000. I cannot justify that and I never could. Knowing how much it was costing the NHS was one of the things that forced me to work my arse off during my time in hospital. I, like many inpatients, constantly felt that there were people out there who needed that bed more than me, who were closer to death’s door and could be saved if I wasn’t taking it up so selfishly.

If I was reading this as someone who has never directly experienced an eating disorder, I think I would be appalled. I get that.

But what if my school nurse or deputy head had pushed harder to encourage me to visit my GP? What if that GP hadn’t made that ridiculous comment about my periods? What if my tutors at college had said something instead of offering me water after I collapsed of exhaustion simply through rushing across a car park? What if the west coast of Wales actually had a specialised eating disorder eating disorders service? What if that psychiatrist they sent me to hadn’t made me feel so inadequate?

I’ll never know. ‘What ifs’ are just that. Things could have been different, but who’s to know? What I am sure of though, is that there were certainly a decent number of occasions where just a little understanding and knowledge could have had a huge impact”.

Read the rest here.

2 thoughts on “False Economy

  1. “If I was reading this as someone who has never directly experienced an eating disorder, I think I would be appalled. I get that.”

    As someone that hasn’t personally experienced an eating disorder, I’d like to say that, actually, this DOESN’T appal me. Mental illness is just that, an illness. Like any other illness, you wouldn’t choose it, you’d cure yourself if it was that easy, and you can’t always prevent it from happening in the first place. It costs money to treat anyone, regardless of whether it’s someone with an eating disorder, a broken leg sustained skiing, a heriditary heart disorder, hip replacement etc etc.

    What DOES appal me though, is that, whatever the reasons, the medical profession/NHS is still getting the treatment of mental illnesses and psyschological/psychiatric disorders so wrong. That needs to change.

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