Measuring illness, and motivation

We often measure the toll of eating disorders by the mortality rate (5-10%). A new study has added to that by calculating the fact that anorexia can take 25 years off life.*

We cite these statistics in hope of convincing the public to take eating disorders seriously. We are trying to quantify the pain, and motivate people to step in to help those who are suffering.

We also throw these numbers around hoping to motivate patients. This is where I draw the line. If patients were making a rational calculation of risks and benefits and choosing the illness that might be helpful. But it is clear they are not. Fear does not get calm other fears. The illness isn't won by numbers, ironically.

I would argue that these statistics don't begin to describe the anguish and ruin of eating disorders. Lives trapped in misery, lost relationships, families destroyed by watching a loved one suffer, and the burnout of clinicians struggling to help patients who are unable to comprehend or escape this cruel illness.

We don't need a death rate or a calculation of lost years as much as we need better tools to change those statistics. No parent watching a child suffer like this needs those numbers to measure the anguish.

* link to paper


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