Men and Eating Disorders, a Hidden Evil

15/01/2012 22:28 GMT | Updated 16/03/2012 09:12 GMT

Eating disorders, a topic which is often solely centred around teenage girls, anorexia and wanting to look like that model from that TV show.

When you see the topic covered on TV, in the newspaper and on the radio it is often the same old tired story, a story that perpetuates the myths, misconceptions and assumptions often made about eating disorders. What people fail to realise is they affect anyone and they are far from this disease of vanity that is too often portrayed. These are dangerous assumptions to make and mean that people from all walks of life fail to get the treatment they need.

I'm Nick, 26, a male and recovered from an eating disorder. A disorder that took every aspect of my life and turned it upside down, a disorder that took four years before any doctor diagnosed it correctly, a disorder which by this point was controlling every decision I made. I found it hard to get help, with medical professionals telling me I wasn't eating because I was depressed, when I was depressed because I wasn't eating. Now I work for the leading eating disorders charity Men Get Eating Disorders Too and I hear the same story from so many other men, who several years down the line are still struggling to get the same treatment I did.

The fact is, medical professionals are often just as blind to the topic, under the same impression that eating disorders are the plight of middle class teenage girls. This isn't helped by the services on offer, with most of them either specialising in treating young women, or simply not equipped to deal with the needs of men. They suffer from the same tunnel vision when it comes to this group of illnesses as the media, the public and even a lot of the organisations claiming to help those suffering. This only serves to further isolate the person suffering, to make them think 'maybe I don't need help' or to simply put them off seeking any form of professional help, which means they are just going to get worse and unfortunately, in the past, this has cost people their lives.

But it is no surprise that there is this tunnel vision, with very few research studies focused on men and eating disorders, a complete lack of training and an empty space where policy should be to prevent men falling through the cracks. With the limited research that is available, it is estimated that 20% of all eating disorder sufferers will be male, but that number is likely to be higher due to men either not being engaged in treatment or refusing to seek help.

Access to help remains difficult despite the Royal College of General Practitioners warning of a 66% increase in male eating disorder sufferers being admitted to hospital and a very recent study in January 2012 showing body image coming high on the list of concerns for men from all walks of life. You only have to stop and look at this and other evidence to see it is a growing problem, yet nothing is being done about it.

At Men Get Eating Disorders Too our campaign for this year's eating disorder awareness week (20 - 26 February) will focus around this very issue. We have launched a petition to call on the government to make changes to policy at a strategic and service delivery level to make it easier for men to access the help they desperately need, to break down the barriers that they are so often faced with when trying.

To get this issue raised in parliament will be a huge step forward for this growing problem and will at the very least bring the topic to the top level to start to change the way treatment is currently delivered. We will continue to run our own training courses for professionals, to help give them the understanding of what it is like for a man coming into or considering treatment and we will continue to run our high profile awareness campaigns and peer support programs for men, to encourage them to engage with services and break the cycle of these serious conditions.

Until something is changed, men will continue to be excluded for the treatment loop, forcing them into dangerous cycles which only grow in intensity, often leading to very poor outcomes. How many more need to suffer before our society stands up, takes note and realises we have a problem and something needs to be done about it?

For more information, support or advice see the Men Get Eating Disorders Too website