Men Get Eating Disorders Too: From Patient to Nurse
Stepping into any eating disorder service as a male or identifying as a male can be a daunting experience. Services for men suffering from an eating disorder should be plentiful and accommodating, but from my experience, there are many limitations and barriers towards seeking help.
In 2012, I had no idea what an eating disorder was. It was only when my mother raised concerns about my well-being that the GP referred me to a local specialist service where I received support, unlike many males who are faced with extensive waiting lists or a postcode lottery meaning their access to support is non-existent. When I was referred for support, I had a lot of denials and had no idea was anorexia nervosa (AN) was, let alone that I had one. Obviously, now that I have been suffering from AN for 11 years, I have come to understand that my struggles with eating, over-exercising and other compulsive behaviours have been present from the start.
Over the 11 years, I have experienced several inpatient admissions and outpatient support and realised how fortunate I am to have received support from several healthcare professionals as many men do not get this support. I have experienced compassion and understanding that have been vital to my recovery, but I cannot forget about the frustration I feel that this support is not more readily available for other men that require it due to limited beds, stigma, and shame, which increases isolation and leaves men unaware of who or where they can turn for support.
During my time on inpatient wards, often I have been the only man on the ward. Most wards just have 1 or 2 bedrooms for men, with the others allocated to women. Of course, everyone should have access to support, regardless of gender, but by assigning significantly more beds to women, a barrier to treatment pathways is created, and this I disagree with.
Statistically, there are more women suffering from eating disorders, but are we getting a true representation of male eating disorders when there is a stigma suggesting only women get eating disorders? I question if this stereotype means men suffer in silence, unaware of the support or services that are available to them. Whilst there are several improvements I believe we should tackle in future healthcare services, understanding eating disorders are not solely a condition of young, teenage men, is vital.
My experience of AN treatment as a male has made me learn a lot about myself including what I find supportive, what I don’t, and how services could be improved. In 2017 I decided to go to university and study to become a mental health nurse. This has been challenging, but it is now 2023, and 6 years later I have just finished my qualification and awaiting my first qualified post as a mental health nurse.
The thought of giving support and giving back to services that have helped me in the past is so exciting and fills me with enthusiasm and happiness. I want to be able to use my personal experience, and my goal is to manage an eating disorder service as a nursing lead in years to come.
And finally, if you are a man struggling with an eating disorder or mental health illness, even at the start of a process in which you are considering reaching out to a family member or friend, my best piece of advice is to do this: it may seem scary and maybe even embarrassing, speaking out about it is worth it. Some people may not understand straight away, but those that matter will try their best to understand and help with seeking further support.
There is hope and professional support out there, it just takes one step at a time to reach out and find a pathway that can help in your journey towards recovery. Regardless of gender, shape, size, age, race, or faith; we all deserve support. I wish you all the strength and fortitude to find the support you so truly deserve and with this the mindset it takes to get towards a full recovery from your eating disorder. Stay strong.