Anorexia sufferer Ashleigh Clark, 17, from Broughty Ferry, has told The Courier her story, after figures revealed the number of youngsters referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) increased by 32% over the last two years.
A number of contributing factors have been identified by those providing support. These include increasing stress on young people, the pressure of social media and unrealistic body images becoming the “norm” in media and film.
As half of all diagnosable mental health conditions start before the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 21, early intervention is crucial.
Eating disorders have been described as “a silent killer”, with more than 725,000 people in the UK believed to be dealing with conditions such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
In Tayside, a number of support options exist for those diagnosed with eating disorders and their families.
A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “NHS Tayside has a dedicated adult outpatient Eating Disorders Service, which is led by a consultant clinical psychologist with input from specialist consultant psychiatry, dieticians, nursing and clinical psychology.
“Approximately 170 referrals are received each year, the majority of which come from general practice.
“Adolescents presenting with eating disorders are routinely seen within the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, which liaises closely with the specialist Eating Disorder Service. If anyone has any concerns about eating disorders, they should contact their GP in the first instance.”
“I have suffered from anorexia nervosa since about the age of 14 and it has affected every possible aspect of my life since that point.
I don’t remember an event or specific scenario which led to me becoming unwell and, for me at least, it was something which seemed to sneak up from nowhere.
At that age the discussion about health and fitness became more prominent and somehow I got the idea that I wasn’t quite good enough and so I thought that by eating right and exercising more I would somehow make myself feel better.
I thought I was just being healthy when in reality I had actually started to destroy myself.
I became obsessed by the number on the scale and could no longer look at food without working out its calorie content and then quickly discounting it as something I couldn’t have.
The first time I went to the doctors, the early signs of anorexia were not picked up and I was sent home with the advice to ‘just eat a bit more’.
By this point, however, I couldn’t control it and things just got worse but I was lucky, as I was quickly referred to a specialist clinic soon after.
The longer I have been living with my illness, the more serious it has become.
For a long time, I was allowed no control over any of my food intake and as a result of this I developed a complete fear and aversion to it.
I couldn’t speak about food, couldn’t even make myself a sandwich.
My fixation with exercise also worsened and on top of daily workouts, I eventually developed an obsession with standing up and would go hours without sitting down for fear of not burning enough calories.
My disorder has meant that I have been admitted to hospital twice.
The first was only a short admission but the second lasted nearly eight months.
I eventually had to be placed on constant observations to stop me from exercising secretly and my physical health was forced to improve, slowly but surely.
When I came out of hospital the second time there were people who assumed I was all better simply because I looked healthier.
People become fixated on the physical side-effects of low weight and skeletal features and forget that anorexia remains a mental illness.
Although I had turned a corner with my physical health, I still hadn’t changed my mental thinking anorexia still controlled me.
My real turning point occurred on a plane home from New York after a family holiday to celebrate my mum’s birthday.
Instead of enjoying this once-in-a-lifetime trip, I’d spent the weekend riddled with anxiety about food, the way I looked and how long I would have to go without exercising on the plane.
However, while sitting on the plane home, I suddenly realised how much I had let anorexia control me and for how long.
I think what did it for me was the fear of waking up in 30-40 years’ time in another hospital somewhere and realising that I had nothing to show for my life.
And that’s the moment I decided to take control of my own recovery instead of being forced to get better by others.
I would love to tell you that once you decide to recover, that your life instantly gets better but the truth is that anorexia recovery is just as difficult, if not more so, than allowing the disorder to win.
But what I am trying to remember is that a ‘recovering’ life is not what you are fighting for, the end goal is to live ‘recovered’.
To no longer have to worry about the voice in your head because it will have been muted out.
And what keeps me going is the hope I have that this is possible.
I have realised that until you, personally, fully commit to recovery, it will never be possible and it’s something I feel I need to do sooner rather than later or else I will never achieve all the things I want to do in life.
I want to go to university to study English literature, I want to go out with friends and be normal, I want to travel and see the world and I also want to be well enough that I can help others to beat their illnesses too.
I am determined to win because I want so much more than life with an eating disorder because, really, life with anorexia is no life at all.”