Promoting Awareness of Mental Health Issues: Why the Eating Disorder Community Depends on Advocacy

Woman in the grass

Contributor: Courtney Howard, B.A., Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope.

The mental health community still faces incredible stigma that is often the result of misinformation and the perpetuation of dangerous myths. Even within the mental health community, eating disorders can often be trivialized and misunderstood.

It is vital that the eating disorder community and larger mental health community work together to fight these stigmas and raise awareness.

There are many other mental health conditions that commonly co-occur with eating disorders, making this advocacy work even more vital to the cause.

Eating Disorders & Co-Occurring Mental Heath Conditions

A 2006 study [1] examined female eating disorder patients in an inpatient setting and found that 97 percent had more than one comorbidity. Specifically, 94 percent of the eating disorder patients had co-occurring mood disorders, primarily depression, 56 percent had co-occurring anxiety disorders, and 22 percent struggled with concurrent substance use disorders.

There has always been a link between eating disorders and trauma. A 2007 article [2] explores this relationship further, reporting that trauma and resulting posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are most common with bulimia nervosa than other eating disorders.

For this reason, many eating disorder treatment centers and individual providers specialize in the treatment of trauma in the context of eating disorder recovery.

Binge eating disorder (BED), which is now recognized as an eating disorder diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), has been found to co-occur with a unique set of mental health conditions. A 2008 study [3] states, “BED co-occurred significantly with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, bulimia nervosa but not anorexia nervosa, most anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, [and] kleptomania…”

Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders that are often deeply intertwined with co-occurring conditions.

The Importance of Advocacy

Woman and coffeePromoting awareness for eating disorders and co-occurring disorders is an important step in reducing stigma and improving resources for those who are struggling with mental illness. So much of the stigma facing this population comes from misunderstanding.

Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) is a leading organization that works to pass legislation that supports the eating disorder community. Its mission is to make eating disorders a public health priority nationwide.

Through advocacy work, including educating members of Congress, surveying the community, and using social media to reach a wider audience, EDC is successfully changing the conversation surrounding eating disorders in Washington, D.C. Its current initiative is the Anna Westin Act of 2015, which will increase training on eating disorders for health professionals and improve insurance coverage for those seeking treatment.

The Anna Westin Act of 2015, along with other pieces of legislation and general advocacy efforts, encourages the community to get active and fight for rights and parity often not afforded to those struggling with mental illness.

Advocacy in the Age of Facebook

Social media has made grassroots advocacy more possible. Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media make it easy to share online petitions, join activism groups, and rally with others from across the world.

Body image advocacy has been especially successful on social media. From body positive hashtags going viral to the formation of online pro-recovery communities that combat harmful pro-eating disorders websites, there are many ways social media is creating a platform to increase awareness, dispel myths, and further support those struggling.

Woman Struggling with mental health disordersIf you have been personally touched by an eating disorder in any way and are looking to be an advocate for the community, feel empowered to join related social media groups, go to events that support eating disorder causes, and use your voice in any way possible to create change.

You can also raise awareness for eating disorders on a smaller scale. If you feel passionate about this but are unable to join these movements due to lack of time, a desire to remain anonymous, or any other reasons, you can still make a huge impact. Raising awareness and reducing the stigma against mental health disorders, including eating disorders, often starts small.

For example, if you are having a conversation with a friend who is perpetuating an eating disorder myth, you can take that as an opportunity to teach your friend about mental health and explain why that particular myth is harmful. A small act like this might seem inconsequential, but if everyone did this then over time we would have a more understanding world filled with advocates speaking their truth. Let’s start today.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

In what ways have you been able to make an impact through eating disorder advocacy?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.


[1]:  Blinder, B., et al. Psychiatric Comorbidities of Female Inpatients With Eating Disorders. Psychosomatic Medicine: May/June 2006 – Volume 68 – Issue 3 – pp 454-462. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000221254.77675.f5
[2]:  Brewerton, T. (2007). Eating Disorders, Trauma, and Comorbidity: Focus on PTSD. Eating Disorders, 15:285–304.
[3]:  Javaras, K., et al. “Co-Occurrence of Binge Eating Disorder With Psychiatric and Medical Disorders.” J Clin Psychiatry 2008;69(2):266-273.

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 October 2, 2016
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