The largest provider of mental health services in Europe has recently issued a statement linking stress to a rise in eating disorders in both men and women.
The findings are based on research in Scotland where The Priory Group, Europe’s leading provider of acute mental health services, has seen the prevalence of eating disorders take a dramatic upturn.
The Priory’s experts believe cultural and lifestyle pressures to have ‘the perfect body’ are resulting in an increase in the number of young women with anorexia nervosa and bulimia and a particular increase in the number of young men coming forward for treatment.
Dr. Alex Yellowlees, Medical Director of the Priory Hospital Glasgow, says an increase is strongly connected to the idealization of thinness in our society and the intense cultural pressure to strive after the ‘perfect body.’
Men are also beginning to adopt the cultural beliefs about thinness and body shape previously held by women alone and are therefore beginning to use eating disorder behaviors such as extreme dieting, obsessive overexercising, self-induced vomiting, and taking diet pills and laxatives to try to lose weight.
Eating disorders are essentially psychological issues Dr. Yellowlees said: “A young person with an eating disorder can look in the mirror and see themselves as much fatter than they are in reality due to the process of body image distortion which is often part of the illness.”
The ratio of female to male cases of eating disorders in Scotland is still higher with the Priory treating 10 female patients to every one male.
Dr. Yellowlees believes the intense pressure to conform to the cultural myth of the ‘Thin Ideal’ and the unhealthy influence of emaciated female role models who are often dysfunctional media stars and icons is having a powerful detrimental effect on Scotland’s younger generation.
He added, “Young people in Scotland are now under a lot of pressure in their hectic and busy lives.
“Whether it be study based pressures, or image based pressures we are finding they are under an increasing amount of strain as they struggle to build self-confidence and self-esteem and develop a clear sense of self-identity. The pursuit of thinness and having an eating disorder provide a seductive but false solution to these challenges.”
Dr. Yellowlees stresses that real personal value and self-worth cannot be found through anorexia or bulimia.
“Therefore it is important to treat eating disorders on a number of levels; psychologically, physically, and behaviourally and to help the person build genuine self- and body-esteem.”