Volunteer with eating disorders and mental health services. Campaigner from lived experience.
James Downs is 28 and from Cardiff. He has experienced a major eating disorder from the age of 16 and although now well into recovery, he faced many barriers and a six year wait to access specialist treatment. He now works as a volunteer to develop eating disorders services, campaigns for changes in policy and awareness alongside studying psychology at the University of Cambridge.
But the fact is, sexual assault IS ubiquitous in the gay scene. So normal has it been in my experience to be treated as a sexual object by other gay men, I rarely questioned it. I've even thought I should've felt flattered by it, that is it was desirable - laughing it off despite the sick feeling in my stomach, or the sense of disgust that comes with your bodily integrity being violated.
Just as managing work can be extremely difficult and stressful, living with an eating disorder can be highly taxing. Over the years when I suffered with anorexia, I was so preoccupied with avoiding food, compulsively exercising and abusing laxatives in order to lose weight that my eating disorder eventually became much more important and time-consuming than work.
More people coming forward will compel GPs to have the training they ought to, and will hopefully force commissioners to fund services to support people before they become critically unwell and their lives are put at risk. In the mean time, society may have to pick up the pieces for the lack of support available, but this shouldn't be the case.
In light of this, I am all the more determined to cultivate an ethos of self-acceptance in my classes. I hope to help people reject comparisons with ideals, and dispel any myths around yoga practitioners and teachers as being special, other-worldy, or privy to insights on enlightenment.
This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week - an annual event which sees charities and campaigners like myself come together in a week of activities aimed at informing the public about eating disorders, raising their profile as a collective priority in our society.
As important as these criticisms are, they need to be placed in a bigger context - one which considers social media behaviours in terms of their driving causes as well as their effects, which acknowledges their potential to be helpful as well as to harm.
One day I hope that we won't need a World Mental Health Day. If the aims of this annual event are eventually met, then mental health will at last be something that we are all aware of. Talking about our current emotional state will be as as normal as talking about our physical aches and pains, and awareness-raising days will only be needed for particular conditions, as with physical health
Access therefore needs to be made much easier. This is a country where 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem during their lifetime, 6 out of 10 young people do not receive support for conditions such as anxiety and depression, and over 6000 people per year take their own lives. Clearly, something must be done.
It's about time we looked beyond our individual eating habits and considered the wider social and cultural drivers of the ways we consume, and stop placing responsibility and blame for obesity or ill health solely with the individual. Like much else, obesity is a collective issue that needs a comprehensive response...
Thinking of a solution to these concerns brings us back to how professionals need to treat people as people first. The same comes to therapy and treatment. Whilst research into evidence-best practice is vital in the immensely under-researched sphere of mental health, the biggest source of evidence as to what might work for any one person is the person themselves.
Above all, when we think of the history of Europe before the EU and the present-day context whereby global stability is precarious to say the least, we have to remind ourselves when we vote on the 23rd June that the prosperity of our international relationships is as important as the prosperity of our national wallet - that there are some things worth paying for, like peace.
The movement for change must be met by more than warm words from those with the power to write legislation and apportion budgets. We need our politicians as well as the public to champion mental health at the highest level, with genuine commitment to the humanitarian as well as economic arguments for better services.
Ultimately, categorising some foods as 'clean' and automatically implicating others as less so plays into an emotive narrative around food which polarises dietary habits in such a way that promotes rigidity, which for many people is only going to be unsustainable.
For me, a decade of struggling with an eating disorder which nearly cost me my life on several occasions involved questioning deeply the reasons why I wanted to get better. Thinking about ending my life also made me think about the things I would want to stay alive for and what I could do with my health if I recovered it.
Anyone experiencing an eating disorder or working to overcome one has shown their ability to work hard, and in the right conditions with the right support there is hope that one day, changing attitudes to eating disorders will mean that employers effectively support the work that people can do, rather than focussing on what they can't.
24/02/2016 18:01 GMT
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