World Mental Health Day just passed on October 10, but that doesn’t mean that mental health issues and disorders like anorexia nervosa can be ignored for the rest of the year.
Anorexia nervosa has been in the spotlight recently due to the infamous Anna Rexia Halloween costume that has many health experts and activists (and anyone who has any common sense about eating disorders) in an uproar. And it’s in the news every week in some way, considering the constant battle of body image and mental health activists against society’s promotion of weight obsession and the thin ideal.
In order to keep World Mental Health Day alive every day, it’s necessary to continue its purpose, which is to raise “public awareness about mental health issues,” according to the World Health Organization’s website. “The day promotes open discussion of mental disorders, and investments in prevention, promotion and treatment services,” an article on the website also stated.
You can continue the trend of World Mental Health Day by learning the basics about anorexia nervosa and spreading the word.
Anorexia nervosa is a type of mental disorder that belongs in the category of eating disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s website, “an eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating.”
There are a lot of other characteristics associated with eating disorders as well, such as an obsession over body size and weight, and feelings of being out of control when it comes to food and dieting. Specific criteria used to diagnose people with anorexia can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Anorexia nervosa specifically is defined by an abnormal and unhealthy sense of body image and self-esteem, extreme diet restrictions, a fear of adding on any pounds, and a determination to get to unhealthy level of thinness (although to the person with anorexia nervosa it seems like the perfect body shape), according to the website.
Some women can lose so much weight that they also lose their period, which is referred to as amenorrhea. Some people with this eating disorder over-exercise or take laxatives or even vomit to control their weight as well. Other health complications can result from anorexia nervosa, such as brittle hair and nails, yellowish and dry skin, constipation, anemia, weakness and brain damage, as well as fertility.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ website, other symptoms of anorexia nervosa include being constantly cold, a development of “odd and ritualistic eating habits such as cutting their food into tiny pieces, refusing to eat in front of others, or fixing elaborate meals for others that they themselves don't eat.” Specific causes of eating disorders are unknown, but it’s generally thought to be a mixture of biological and environmental factors, according to the website.
There are treatment options available for anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, although it is not an easy process, of course. For severe cases, hospitalization can be required, but different types of therapy and medication can be used to help treat the disorder, according to the NAMI website.
The main goal of treatment is to get the individual to a healthy weight and maintain it, and this can also be promoted by educating the individual about healthy weight, eating disorders, nutrition and body image. Emotional issues and unhealthy thoughts are generally addressed in therapy.
McLaughlin, Katie. ‘Sexy anorexia’ Halloween costume controversy. ‘Sexy anorexia’ Halloween costume controversy – The Chart – CNN.com Blogs. Web. October 12, 2011.
World Health Organization. World Mental Health Day. WHO – World Mental Health Day. Web. October 12, 2011. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/events/annual/world_mental_health_day/en/index.html
National Institute of Mental Health. Eating Disorders. NIMH – Eating Disorders. Web. October 12, 2011. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml#pub2
National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Illnesses. NAMI – Anorexia Nervosa. Web. October 12, 2011. http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=102975
Reviewed October 13, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith