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Truthfulness, Co-Occurring Issues and Eating Disorders

Contributed by: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

Smiling female student doing homework by laptop at cafeteria tableEating Disorders have characteristics that can mirror other types of mental illnesses, including personality disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

It is not uncommon for someone struggling with an eating disorder to also present with other type of mental illness, and the development of coinciding disorders can be termed “co-occurring issues”.

The Similar Risk Factors of Mental Health Issues

Co-occurring issues can occur and develop at the same time or during different time periods but are often linked by similar risk factors, such as:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Biological susceptibilities
  • Environmental and social exposures
  • Other Factors

Because of these similarities among mental health illnesses, one of more disorders can arise at varying times. For example, a person who has developed an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, may be more prone to other mental illnesses, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even if one has recovered from a mental illness that has been primarily diagnosed, there is a possibility of another type of mental illness occurring in the future.

How Risk Factors Play Into Your Recovery Journey

Model Released. Young Woman with a HeadacheAs someone who has struggled with a mental health illness, what is the best way to use this information? This does not mean that you will always have a mental illness for the rest of your life. It is important however, to be aware of the risk factors that do make you susceptible to mental illnesses.

Let’s take for example, a woman that has recovered from anorexia. While many of the behaviors of anorexia may have been disrupted and no longer active, there may still be personality traits, characteristics, and biological risk factors present that can put this woman at risk for developing another type of mental illness.

Sometimes, One Illness Can Replace Another

Some individuals may find that even after being in recovery from an eating disorder for a long period of time, another kind of mental illness may come forth. A person might turn to substance abuse following an eating disorder or vice versa.

A mental illness that may have been dormant may progress or become active just as another mental illness is subsiding. As one moves through life, different life events and experiences can trigger or activate a mental illness in one who is predisposed.

Being Proactive About Recovery

Group of 3 women doing yoga at sunsetWhile this can be discouraging for some, it can be helpful to understand this information in ways of proactively guarding recovery. Being aware of what you are susceptible to can help you strengthen yourself and prepare for triggers than you may encounter.

Another important aspect of healing from and dealing with co-occurring disorders is embracing truthfulness about your situation and the circumstances you may find yourself in.

If you are undergoing professional treatment for an eating disorder or other mental illness, a licensed therapist or counselor can help you identify triggers as well as guide you in developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Asking Yourself Questions to Stay Aware of the Risk Factors

If you are in recovery and find yourself drifting in habits or behaviors that are not positively supporting your efforts, it is crucial to take an honest look at the situation that may be unfolding. Consider asking yourself the following questions and critically assessing what is occurring in your life:

  • Do you find yourself avoiding a particular emotion, circumstance, person or trauma? Are you engaging in an unhealthy behavior as means of distracting or avoiding?
  • Do you find yourself relapsing into behaviors associated with your mental illness?
  • Have you had increased anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, difficulty concentrating, or anything abnormal from your baseline?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, consider talking or discussing with your therapist about what your currently experiencing. A professional can help identify if another mental health illness is present or developing or if there are any other issues that you may need to address.

Recovery from mental illness is a lifelong process that requires constant diligence and dedication to the process. Being aware of vulnerabilities and risk factors can help fortify your foundation in recovery as well as understand and overcome potential challenges you may face.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you faced more than one mental illness? What proactive steps have you taken to maintain recovery through different life experiences?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 29th, 2016
Published on

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