Eating disorders: The dangerous gap between treatment recommendations and availability
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gap between treatment recommendations and availability

The U.K.’s National Health Service has just revealed the shocking and life-threatening wait times those with eating disorders must endure. Even though eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, U.K. citizens must wait up to 182 days before they can receive the care they need.

Despite the fact that U.K.-based researchers publicize study findings that urge the need for early intervention for those with eating disorders, the reality of treatment availability is actually quite contrary.

Here at home

Americans with eating disorders also suffer while waiting for mental health care. In fact, 80 percent of those who seek care in this country do not receive adequate care and/or are discharged home sooner than the recommended length of stay. The consequences of these barriers to care are devastating.

Consequences of inadequate treatment

One in 10 with anorexia nervosa dies within ten years. Mortality rates for bulimia nervosa and other forms of eating disorders are also high — even higher when the associated risk of suicide is considered. Untreated patients suffer from malnutrition, dental problems, osteoporosis, heart problems, infertility and other physical illnesses. Common mental effects include relationship difficulties, depression, anxiety and negative body image.

Individual barriers to treatment

Eating disorders sometimes go untreated even when treatment is available, as elaborate efforts are typically made to conceal the disease from others. Fear of being discovered, fear of losing control and social stigma are a few internal barriers that people with eating disorders typically experience, whether such fears and stigma are real or imagined.

Moving past the barriers

The Affordable Care Act mandates that mental health services be covered by health insurance the same as physical problems, allowing many more Americans access to treatment. In addition, new treatment approaches are emerging that appear to hold promise for those who are suffering from eating disorders and their loved ones.

Still, many factors determine how patients who do receive treatment respond and how well they do in the long term. In other words, access to adequate treatment does not guarantee a cure. But hospitalization does provide an opportunity for medical stabilization, suicide prevention and a start to a new life in recovery.

About us

Sovereign Health of California is a leader in the treatment of people with mental illness, substance use disorders and dual diagnosis. Our specialized eating disorder program combines the most accurate and effective approaches to diagnostic assessment and treatment, providing optimal long-term outcomes. Comprehensive treatment includes novel, conventional and holistic therapies tailored for each individual. Our ongoing continuing care program provides the support patients need to remain free from addiction and recover from all of its consequences. To find out more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call us at our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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