Contributor: Staff at Sierra Tucson
It can be hard enough to struggle with an eating disorder. But when you’re suffering from multiple conditions at the same time, you’re dealing with the symptoms of each disorder, and that can be an overwhelming and intense experience. For many people who have an eating disorder, mental illnesses such as mood or anxiety disorders can also be part of their daily lives. It can be difficult finding balance throughout the recovery process when facing coexisting disorders.
You’re Not Alone
It can sometimes feel like you’re the only one who’s struggling, but there are more people living with coexisting mental health conditions than you might think.
Danish researchers conducted a population study of 5.9 million people over the course of 17 years to find out whether the risk of developing another mental health disorder increases after receiving a mental health disorder diagnosis. The researchers found that having one mental health disorder significantly increased a person’s chance of developing a second, or co-occurring, mental health disorder .
However, most notably, the researchers discovered that the disorder a person was initially diagnosed with didn’t necessarily play a part in whether they developed a second disorder. In other words, the researchers’ work shows that co-occurring disorders are common, regardless of the condition a person is facing.
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says that, of the people who have major depressive disorder, up to 50% also suffer from bulimia nervosa, 39% also suffer from anorexia nervosa, and 33% also suffer from binge-eating disorder .
NEDA also reports that up to 81% of people who have bulimia nervosa, up to 65% of people who have binge-eating disorder, and up to 51% of people who have anorexia nervosa also suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Not everyone who has an eating disorder will develop co-occurring conditions, but if you’re struggling with multiple mental health concerns, know that you’re not alone in your experiences.
Finding Balance and Living with Multiple Conditions
The impact of each mental health condition can vary depending on the specific disorders you’re living with, along with individual factors such as your genetic background, support system, and medical history.
Mood and anxiety disorders can include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. These conditions can affect your emotions and motivation level, and they can also cause distressing physical symptoms that can interfere with your ability to function in your day-to-day life.
Different eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder, can impact your relationship with food and your body. These complex illnesses cause uncontrollable urges to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors and, in some cases, the compulsion to exercise to the point of harm.
If you have an eating disorder that co-occurs with another mental health condition, you likely feel bombarded by overlapping symptoms that are fighting to overpower each other. That’s why it’s so important to get treatment that addresses each condition you’re facing.
Tips for Finding Balance
It is possible to find the right balance for yourself as you begin your unique path to recovery. This journey is highly personal, but these tips may help you find a starting point:
- Educate yourself – Many treatment programs will provide an educational component to your plan of care — usually in the form of psychoeducation — so that you can understand the conditions you’re living with. You can also talk to your therapist during one-on-one counseling sessions or do your own research using reputable resources.
- Advocate for yourself – Everyone responds to treatment differently, so it’s important to speak up if you’re continuing to struggle or if you have any questions about the recovery process. Having open communication with your care team will ensure that you make positive, meaningful progress toward recovery.
- Find time for self-reflection – You’ll be putting in a lot of emotional work during your time in treatment, so it’s vital to pause regularly to reflect on your progress. Are you experiencing greater improvement in some areas than others? Do you see opportunities for better balance in certain aspects of your treatment? These are excellent observations to communicate to your care team.
Finding balance can be challenging even on our best days, but it can be even harder when you’re struggling with multiple mental health conditions. Getting holistic treatment that addresses all the concerns you’re facing and prioritizing your mental health needs can help you find the path that’s right for you.
References Plana-Ripoll, O.; Pedersen, C.B.; Holtz, Y.; et al. (2019). Exploring comorbidity within mental disorders among a Danish national population. JAMA Psychiatry. 76(3):259–270. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.3658.  National Eating Disorders Association. (2018). Eating disorders and co-occurring conditions. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/eating-disorders-co-occurring-conditions-0.
About Our Sponsor:
Located in Tucson, Arizona, Sierra Tucson is the nation’s leading residential and outpatient treatment center for substance use disorders, trauma-related conditions, chronic pain, mood and anxiety disorders, and co-occurring concerns. We provide integrated, holistic care for adults age 18 and older of all genders, including specialized programs for military members, first responders, and healthcare workers. Sierra Tucson was ranked No. 1 in Newsweek’s list of Best Addiction Treatment Centers in Arizona for 2020.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published April 7, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on April 7, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC