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What you don’t know about eating disorders can kill you

Told that a Plymouth woman had dropped to 60 pounds because of an eating disorder, a licensed clinical mental health counselor in North Conway expressed shock, saying, “Oh my God.”

Moments later, Nicholas Hudson-Swogger stated the harsh truth about this sickness, which he believes doesn’t receive enough attention: Lack of nutrients can result in heart or kidney failure.

“Eating disorders are under-recognized and completely underfunded in compared to other mental health issues,” said Hudson-Swogger, who opened his own practice last year after working for Northern Human Services in Berlin. “What people don’t realize is anorexia nervosa is the deadliest psychiatric killer. It kills far more people percentage-wise than any other disorder.”

Hudson-Swogger was anxious to contribute to our report on Katherine Drouin, who gave the Monitor complete access to document her fight with anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

Drouin, who’s been sick for 20 years, binges and purges on a nightly basis. She’s 40 pounds less than her top weight, in 1996 when she was a senior at Winnisquam Regional High School, where she ran cross country.

Hudson-Swogger said the condition is not a choice but a physical ailment that affects the brain.

“Eating disorders are one of the last of the mental illnesses being recognized by people as a biologically based disorder,” Hudson-Swogger said. “It’s not about control or intentions or weakness. It’s not under control of the individual. The illness is controlling them.”

Statistics and facts released by the Academy for Eating Disorders and the Eating Disorder Coalition reveal some disturbing data.

For example, at least 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, and only 1 in 10 will receive treatment. Also, between 10 and 20 percent of those who suffer from anorexia nervosa die, the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.

And the longer a person goes without treating this disorder, the harder it is to cure.

“It’s really quite scary how many people are out there and not getting the appropriate treatment,” Hudson-Swogger said. “When it’s detected early, the chances of having a relapse are very low and recovery is possible.”

Like other types of mental illness, an eating disorder is linked through genetic disposition, although that’s not a guarantee someone will suffer from it.

Drouin said several of her family members are addicted to drugs and suffer from depression. Specific to her addiction, experts say environmental factors come into play as well, including society’s emphasis on fitness and appearance.

Still, eating disorders continue to be overlooked. A recent study by the National Institute of Health claims that 3.6 million Americans suffer from autism and $160 million is funneled toward research, and 3.4 million people are schizophrenic, with $276 million used for research.

Meanwhile, eating disorders affect 30 million people and receive $28 million for research.

“There’s a movement going on within the community of eating disorder specialists in New Hampshire for more and better treatment around the state,” Hudson-Swogger said. “A lot of people suffering are not getting treatment, and it’s really important we address this. These are chronic illnesses that can be quite deadly.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Related

Ray Duckler: ‘A long battle’ for treatment

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

To Katherine Drouin and her supporters, none of this makes sense. Forget the drawn-out process of getting lab work and a psychiatric evaluation, tests needed before Drouin could receive treatment for her eating disorder. Forget the lack of resources in New Hampshire. And forget the miscommunication between agencies, and the lack of guidelines needed to navigate the health care system. … 0

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