By Rachel Presskreischer, MS, LMSW, USA
The US mental health policy agenda is dominated by issues of gun safety/gun rights, and the shortage of available psychiatric services around the country.
Generally, the mental illnesses addressed in these discussions are; psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder; bipolar disorder; and major depressive disorder. While all of these illnesses have a profound impact on individuals and families, the fact remains that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, while bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders have similar rates¹.
Over the past four years, I have been involved in, and aware of advocacy efforts on behalf of eating disorders in federal and state legislatures. These campaigns range from school screening bills, to health insurance reform, to funding treatment and research programs. In all of these cases, regardless of whether the legislation was successful or not, the most powerful tools I saw were the voices of individuals and families touched by these insidious illnesses.
Grateful for freedom of expression
The public policy arena in the United States is complicated and operates across local, state, and federal legislatures. The relationships between and within all levels of government are complex and, at times, contentious. That said, I am grateful I am able to write, and call, and meet with my legislators to voice the issues that I feel need to be addressed. I know not everyone across the globe has the ability to do that for reasons like governmental structure, social/cultural norms, or fear of repercussions for speaking out.
To me, it is a privilege (and a function of my privilege) to be able to speak about the importance of eating disorders. For this reason, I am grateful for the emergence of this global effort. I believe that by joining together around the world we can amplify those powerful voices, those powerful stories, to a volume that policymakers cannot ignore.
Whether it’s a matter of increased access to care in one country, or the establishment of ANY treatment in another, together we can demand these illnesses be recognized for the pain and suffering they cause, and action be taken to help those affected.
¹ Arcelus, J., Mitchell, A. J., Wales, J., Nielsen, S. (2011). Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders: A meta-analysis of 36 studies. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(7), 724-731. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74.
Rachel works in New York City for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) wearing many hats as the Internal Support Coordinator. As a graduate student at Columbia University she fell in love with health policy and will begin a PhD program in Health and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University in the fall of 2017. Her goal is to work through policy channels to provide access to quality mental health services for everyone.
Join Rachel in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.