"There was no warning"

Anorexia kills Shropshire woman: "There was no warning" is a story repeated over and over so often I sometimes can't tell if what I'm reading is a new story. The reports of parents reaching out after losing their precious children to this illness have an eerie interchangeability. The children and families are each unique, but the stories are so alike.

Yet despite these repeated nightmares and the lessons they impart, what I see EVERY DAY are parents who are told to back off, that the situation isn't serious YET, the weight isn't "dangerously low," that a little bit of purging is okay, that "they have to choose."

Between these media reports and personal stories of lost loved ones come the chiding of those who say parents are "in denial" and "co-dependent."

What I encounter every day are parents deeply alarmed and going from resource to resource seeking information and wanting to be more assertive but held back by an obstacle field of patient anosognosia, legal issues, professional alliance with the patient, tradition of parentectomy, a lack of public information, and the powerful inertia of a lifetime thinking that this person before you is in control of his or her actions.

I see parents who desperately want to do more, try to do more, and wish they did more later. It isn't "denial" that holds families back. Parents are doing what the media and professionals and almost all books for parents about eating disorders are telling them to do. Parents need to hear another message:

There will be no warning. The diagnosis is your warning. The time to act is at the first sign of this TREATABLE mental illness, and the clinicians to work with are the ones who see families as an ally and not a problem. The danger is not the lowest weight and hitting bottom; the danger is failing to act as soon and as hard and for as long as possible. Leaving that decision to the patient is cruel and flies in the face of what we know about what this illness does to cognition.

We need to change the narrative of these tragic stories and these families so crushingly and unfairly victimized not just by the illness but by society and the clinical environment's - and our own - lack of action. The best memorial to the beloved children lost would be to intervene on behalf of the countless mothers destined to be the next generation's tragic news story headline.

We're all part of the problem if we're not part of the solution.


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