THE Eating Disorder Centre Cork has raised concerns about eating disorders in the elderly after treating a man who went undiagnosed until the age of 68.
The centre’s clinical manager, Trish Shiel, said the 68-year-old man had managed to keep his condition a secret for decades.
However, the mental anguish proved too much and he eventually reached out for help.
The centre is currently working with 67 service users at their premises on Penrose Quay.
Only three of this number are men but Ms Shiel believes that many sufferers continue to go undiagnosed as a result of the stigma around eating disorders in males.
“This guy didn’t have anorexia,” she said of the 68-year-old service user. It was the kind of eating disorder that could be kept well hidden.
“He wasn’t worried that anyone would find out but the condition was out of control and he needed the help.
“He had obviously been suffering with it for a long time, but he had got to a stage where he had nothing left to lose. When you get that desperate you have nothing to lose.
“This happens in every walk of life. It’s a very complicated condition. A lot of the time our negative feelings are projected on to the body.”
She stressed how important it is for people to speak out about the condition.
“Because this is a coping tool for people they very often don’t want to get the help they need,” she said. “The more people like that speak out the better. There is such a stigma around eating disorders. People will say I’m depressed or suicidal but it’s rare that you hear someone speak out about an eating disorder.”
Ms Shiel also voiced concerns about the number of males suffering from eating disorders.
“One of the biggest myths is that this is a woman’s condition and you’re automatically immune if you’re a man. There are some men out there who feel that an eating disorder somehow makes them weak or feminine.
“There is a fear attached to coming forward. I think the figures for men are higher than we know. You only have to visit any gym to see that. There is pressure on guys to look a certain way.
“Often it’s the opposite of what many imagine an eating disorder to be.
“Now, we’re hearing a lot about bigorexia in males where they are bulking up in a compulsive manner. An eating disorder can exist at any point on the scale.”
The clinical manager reiterated the importance of early detection.
“The faster the response the more lives that can be saved,” said Ms Shiel.
“Years are given up to this illness. Jobs are lost. Education is lost. Lives are lost. The condition seems tame, but more people die from this than any other mental health condition.
“We need to highlight the dangers of this illness so that people can spot it early.
“Sometimes a person with an eating disorder won’t admit it because they feel that the condition is having a positive effect on their life.
“The majority of people coming through our doors are creative and intelligent people. When a person is lost to an eating disorder we are also losing those gifts as a society.”
- Eating Disorder Centre Cork is a
not-for-profit treatment centre.
See eatingdisordercentrecork.ie for more.