Re-posted from Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders (CCED) blog archives. CCED and The Emily Program partnered in 2014.
We are happy to announce that today’s post is written by psychologist Dr. Sarah Ravin. Dr. Ravin utilizes DBT, CBT, and ACT to treat adolescents and young adults with eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, anxiety, depression, OCD, and self-injury. We have often linked to and are inspired by the posts on her blog. A big thank you to Dr. Ravin for her contribution to our blog!
If you have an eating disorder, you have probably struggled with the question of whether to reveal your diagnosis to others.
Teenagers and young adults with eating disorders run the gamut of self-disclosure: some of them never tell a single soul about their illness, while others write about it on Facebook or tweet about it daily to hundreds of followers. In my practice, I advise patients to think carefully before revealing their illness to anyone. In this age of tell-all books, tabloid magazines, and Jerry Springer, it is easy to forget that the concept of revealing deeply personal information to large numbers of people is relatively new and quite controversial. There are consequences – both positive and negative – to telling people about your eating disorder.
In considering whom to tell, it is important to balance the desire for privacy with the need for social support. On the one hand, having an illness is a personal matter and is not typically something you would share with a large number of people. Think about whom you would tell if you had asthma or a learning disability. Most people would share this information with their close friends, relatives, and doctors. Most people would not share this information on a first date, on a job interview, or on their Facebook page.
On the other hand, someone going through an eating disorder needs a tremendous amount of support in order to get well. Friends and loved ones can only support you if they are aware that you are struggling and that you need their help. Suffering from an eating disorder can be a lonely and isolating experience, particularly if you keep your illness a secret from everyone.
Then there is the issue of stigma. The sad reality is that people with mental illnesses are judged, misunderstood, marginalized, and discriminated against. The general population is not well informed about eating disorders, and stereotypes abound. The problem, of course, lies not with eating disorder patients themselves but with those who judge and discriminate against them. Given that this ignorance exists, however, it is wise to protect yourself from it when you can.
Before revealing your eating disorder to someone, I recommend asking yourself a few questions:
Decisions about disclosing your illness are deeply personal, and there is no clear-cut formula to help you determine whether to tell someone. It is best to find a middle ground between complete secrecy and indiscriminate disclosure.
Here are some general guidelines to consider as you think about disclosing your eating disorder:
Take advantage of the opportunity to educate the people you tell. The easiest way to correct misconceptions about eating disorders is to get to know someone who has one.
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