Pica as a Co-Occurring Issue With Mental Illness

Woman getting help for her eating disorders with methods given by Australia and New Zealand

Eating disorders are severe psychiatric mental illness that involve a variety of complex factors. Many times, other disorders, including both mental illnesses and diseases, may develop alongside an eating disorder, which may further complicate the issues at hand. Pica is a complex form of an eating disorder that may be influenced by both biological, psychological and environmental factors.

Individuals who do develop pica might already have another form of a mental illness, such as a mood or personality disorder. Learning how to appropriately seek treatment for both pica and a mental illness is essential for recovery.

Signs and Symptoms of Pica

Pica is characterized by the repetitive and recurring behavior of eating non-nutritive foods. Commonly ingested objects eaten by individuals who struggle with pica includes but is not limited to dirt, chalk, glass, ice, hair, paper, paint, drywall, metal or feces.

There are obvious consequences associated with the consumption of non-nutritive foods, such as risk of toxicity, poisoning, bowel obstructions, and more. A person struggling with pica will have a difficult time refraining from consuming these objects, even in face of the known consequences. The DSM-V has outlined the criteria for pica to include the persistent consumption of non-nutritive objects for more than a one month [1].

There is some thought that pica may arise from a nutritive deficiency, leading to cravings for substances with no nutritional value. However, there is a strong correlation between pica and other mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and the experience of trauma.

Some individuals may actually develop pica as a means of self-soothing, comforting or coping with overwhelming situations, emotions, or stressors.

Effectively Treating Co-Occurring Conditions

Woman on her phoneBecause pica is often linked to other mental illnesses, a behavioral-based treatment may be most effective. This would include comprehensive care with a psychiatrist, therapist/counselor and primary care provider to ensure that the many factors associated with this condition are appropriately addressed.

In the situation that a mood and/or personality disorder is present, these underlying issues must also be part of the treatment equation to approach pica in a holistic manner.

If you or someone you care for has demonstrated symptoms of pica, be sure to seek out the help of a mental health specialist. There is hope for healing and treatment for both pica and other co-occurring mental illness.

Community Discussion – Share Your Thoughts Here!

If you have suffered with pica, what resources were helpful for your recovery?

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Director of Content and Social Media for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 12, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com