A tough first step

By Colin Walsh

For many Americans who suffer from a mental illness, seeking help is a tough first step to take.

It is generally accepted that body image disorders result from a combination of the media representations of the “ideal” body and pre-existing mental health issues. These are universal problems that do not discriminate by gender, race or ethnicity; but for the men who suffer from bulimia and anorexia, taking that first step to recovery may be a bit tougher.

“It’s harder for men to get help,” Donna Foster, director of the Kentucky Center for Eating and Weight Disorders said. “They all feel a whole lot of shame.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 10 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, and one million of those who have reported the disease are men.

However, despite its treatability, anorexia has the highest premature fatality rate of any mental illness; it is underfunded and its causes are misunderstood.

“It certainly has enough stigma on it for females,” Jill Kindy, sports dietitian and Health Education Coordinator at UK said.

“But for men it can be even harder. In general guys don’t tend to ask for help, and women are more likely to. To be honest some of the guys I’ve had as patients have been the sickest because they wait so long to seek help,” she said.

When the statistics are considered, it can still be easy to assume men might be less likely to develop an eating disorder. But according to Kindy, these disorders don’t develop alone, and other health problems that also don’t discriminate against gender are often contributing factors.

“With any eating disorder you almost always have other conditions that go along with it, which is why it’s just as easy for a guy to develop (eating) disorders,” Kindy said.

Kindy continued to say that women are not the only ones who suffer from mental disorders along with their eating disorders.

“Most of the time they go with other things mental disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety; and guys are just as likely to suffer from these mental disorders just as women.”

According to Mary Bolin, director of the UK Counseling Center, the numbers do not reflect the fact that men are just as susceptible to these diseases as women.

“Statistically, the reported prevalence rate for eating disorders in males is lower than for females,” Bolin said. “But males can experience any of the forms of disordered eating, exercise, or body image.

Bolin says that gender does not play a role in the internel or external control issues in ones life.

“Regardless of gender, for some individuals there are issues of control of one’s life – which may take the form of regulating nutrition, exercise and perception of one’s body and appearance meeting some standard – internal or external,” Bolin said.

Athletes who have to meet a certain weight requirement or need to appear physical, often reach higher rates.

“Rates are often higher for males who must ‘make weight’ [jockeys, wrestlers, body builders, any sport with weight classes or limits] or where physical appearance is part of the ‘game’ – divers, gymnasts, dancers, skaters. For some males the ‘ideal’ is to be as thin as possible and still have muscle definition – be ripped,” Bolin said.

Even with the prevalence and dangers of eating disorders, there is still inadequate funding.

In 2005, the National Institutes of Health estimated that funding for anorexia treatment was $7 million, while funding for Alzheimer’s disease, which affects less than half as many people, was $412 million.

The outlook for the future may be calling for these numbers to change, however.

“It is on the rise,” Kindy said. “It used to be a ‘middle class white girl disease,’ but now we are just as likely to see African American women men and even now international students. It is on the rise overall.”

Those who need help taking the first step to recovering from an eating disorder can contact the University of Kentucky Counseling Center by dialing (859) 257-8701 or by visiting 201 Frazee Hall.