The longer an eating disorder goes untreated, the greater the chance there is of developing a depressive disorder, and yet at the same time, depression and other mental health problems are also known to increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. The fact is there is a relationship between depression and eating disorders and other mental health problems can coexist with both.
Both depression and eating disorders are becoming increasingly common. According to the Mental Health Foundation 10% of the population in the UK will experience some form of depression every year, and 2% of women as well as some men will suffer from an eating disorder. Anorexia is more likely to affect young women whereas bulimia is more likely to affect older women and is more common than anorexia. Compulsive eating affects both women and men equally and approximately 10% of all people with eating disorders are men.
What is a depressive disorder?
A depressive disorder can be defined as a set of symptoms ranging from mild to severe that coexist with overwhelming feelings of sadness and an inability to take pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed to the extent that they interfere with normal daily routines. There are several different types of depressive disorders including clinical depression, bipolar disorder or manic depression, post natal depression, seasonal affective disorder or SAD and post traumatic stress disorder. No one knows why some people become depressed and not others, but low self esteem is known to increase the risk of developing a depressive disorder and is also an underlying factor in eating disorders.
Symptoms of depression
o Feeling tired and lethargic for most of the time
o Persistent low moods and sadness, a feeling of despondency
o Sleep disturbances, either inability to sleep or sleeping too much
o A pessimistic outlook on life
o Feeling anxious and nervous
o Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, low self esteem
o Frightening and irrational thoughts
o Loss of pleasure in activities and lack of interest in sex
o Avoidance of social contact and social situations
o Changes in appetite involving either loss of appetite or an increased appetite and associated weight loss or weight gain
o Emotional outbursts for no apparent reason
There are three main types of eating disorders and these include:
o Anorexia Nervosa - characterised by a fear of putting on weight to such an extent that the person doesn't eat or eats very little, sometimes to the extent that they can starve themselves to death. By controlling what, when, and if they eat, they feel safe, secure and in control. Feelings behind anorexia include a low self esteem, a distorted self image and fear of rejection. It is a potentially life threatening condition.
o Bulimia Nervosa - someone with bulimia eats copious amounts of food and then feel guilty and out of control so try to purge themselves by vomiting, starving themselves or taking laxatives. It is harder to detect than anorexia because the weight remains relatively stable and the sufferer keeps their behaviour hidden, it is also more common than anorexia.
o Compulsive eating - involves eating for comfort or for emotional security and is characterised by nibbling all day without being able to stop. People who eat compulsively are usually overweight. It can be a way of denying or avoiding problems and is often associated with low self esteem, feelings of worthlessness, loneliness and emptiness.
Possible triggers of depression and eating disorders
There is not a single cause that will trigger either depression or an eating disorder as combinations of factors are involved. For example:
o Stressful events and experiences such as problems at home, bullying, abuse, loss of someone close, rejection, failing at school or work, coping with puberty, worries about sexuality, etc. can all result in a extreme stress which can act as a trigger.
o Either physical or mental health problems can trigger an eating disorder or depression. For example, someone struggling with a physical illness or disability can become depressed. Depression or anxiety related disorders can trigger an eating disorder, and someone with an eating disorder can develop depression - both are linked.
o Low self esteem and feelings of insecurity or feeling out of control of ones life can increase the risk of developing depression or an eating disorder or both.
Some other psychological disorders that can accompany eating disorders include:
o Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
o Manic depression
o Panic disorders
o Anxiety disorders
o Post traumatic stress disorder
o Attention Deficit Disorder
At the root of eating disorders are negative feelings including low self esteem, guilt, shame, sadness, anger, stress, feeling deserving of pain and punishment, all of which can be symptoms of depression too.
The biggest step to combating both depression and any eating disorder is to admit there is a problem in the first place as many people will deny there is anything wrong and without appropriate treatment, these mental health problems can continue indefinitely, and can even be life threatening. It is absolutely essential to seek help from a qualified medical professional in order to receive an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment, support and guidance to ensure a full recovery.