Mental health is a growing concern for parents in the UK, with almost a quarter of a million children and young people receiving help for anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
Earlier this year it was reported that children as young as four were attending health services for eating disorders, while Beat – the UK’s charity for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating – have warned that disorders “can affect anyone, regardless of age”.
In a bid to open up the conversation around young people and eating, Channel 4’s latest documentary, Wasting Away: The Truth About Anorexia, sees journalist Mark Austin discuss destructive impact anorexia had on his daughter Maddy.
At her lowest point, at 18, she weighed just 5-and-a-half stone and developed bone marrow failure.
Airing tonight at 10 pm, the programme takes a look at how health issues are continuing to grow among young people, and whether enough is being done to actually treat them.
If you’re the parent of a child, like Austin, that has developed an eating disorder, you may feel unsure how to help and how to act around them.
But fear of what other people might say, or being criticised or punished can often stop young people from taking the first step, so it’s important that you learn to find ways to help your child cope and manage their eating habits at home.
Here, Pablo Vandenabeele, the Clinical Director for mental health at Bupa, offers his practical advice for parents supporting a child with an eating disorder.
Talk about it
If you’ve noticed a change in your loved one’s eating habits or significant weight loss talk to them about it. Create a safe space, maybe somewhere they are the most comfortable and have an open, judgement-free conversation. Start by asking them if there’s anything that is making them feel anxious or stressed which is having an impact on their eating habits. Try finding out why they are having difficulties with food and work on finding a solution to that issue with them. Also speak to a doctor, they’ll be able to support you and your loved one with your physical and mental health and put you in touch with support groups.
Don’t force it
Although your instinct may be to push them to eat, this may not be right for them. They’re already dealing with a lot of negative emotions when it comes to food, so by adding more pressure onto them won’t help. Instead, ask what they might want to eat, now or in a couple of hours time.
Don’t blame them
Overcoming an eating disorder can be very difficult. Remind yourself during the challenging times that your child is not doing this to hurt you.
Take time for yourself
Caring for a loved one with an eating disorder can be emotionally challenging. You may feel frustrated the person isn’t eating healthily, or worried you’re not doing enough. It’s easy to forget to make time for yourself – speak to a doctor about what you’re going through or seek a support group.
Be honest about your feelings
Caring for a child with an eating disorder is tough and there will be times where you lose your temper, or say something you wish you hadn’t. Explain to your child how you’re feeling and why you acted the way that you. Remind them that you love them and praise them when they do something that makes you proud.
Further support and information can be found at Anorexia & Bulimia Care and Beat