Detecting co-occurring mental illnesses is often much more complex than many people think. One of the reasons for this is that co-occurring mental health disorders often mask each other. For example, an individual struggling with clinical depression may also struggle with disordered eating as a form of “control.” So one may either miss the depression because they are focused on the potential for an eating disorder, or they may cast off the potential for an eating disorder because they feel those behaviors were a short-term coping mechanism. Comorbidities like this happen across the entire mental health spectrum, especially for those struggling with eating disorders.
The Prevalence of Eating Disorders and Comorbidities
Eating disorders have been shown to co-occur alongside nearly all mental illnesses. Two of the most common eating disorders that co-occur are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. According to the peer-reviewed journal CNS Drugs, “The eating disorders anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa present with comorbidity in a number of important areas, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders (obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and other phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder).”
A study reported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) showed that more than half (56.2%) of respondents with anorexia nervosa [and] 94.5% with bulimia nervosa” also “met criteria” for at least one other Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) classified mental health disorder. Of course, these are just the two most common eating disorders to co-occur. All eating disorders can present as a comorbidity (meaning as a disease existing alongside another disease). Also, these comorbidities are present among both adults and adolescents.
The Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Adolescents
According to the previously mentioned NIMH study, “The lifetime prevalence of eating disorders [among U.S. adolescents aged 13 to 18 years] was 2.7%.” To put that into population perspective, that’s nearly 1.2 million adolescents in the U.S. currently struggling with some form of eating disorder and/or disordered eating.
It is also noted that the prevalence of eating disorders grows with the age of the population. This is because many eating disorders go unnoticed and undiagnosed in adolescents. With age and the development of co-occurring disorders of all kinds, eating disorders become more likely to be diagnosed. Also, since adolescent eating disorders are often undiagnosed, the number of adolescent girls with eating disorders is likely much higher than 1.2 million.
When it comes to eating disorders, it is important to seek professional mental health care as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for individuals to try to self-treat eating disorders. People often minimize the severity of their eating issues and buy into the constant stream of misinformation about eating, diet, and exercise. However, it’s often necessary to seek professional help to truly address the issue. Also, this is the best way to uncover other comorbidities of mental health.
The Importance of Treating Co-occurring Disorders in Tandem
It is important to detect and diagnose co-occurring disorders as soon as possible because it is critical to treat all co-occurring disorders at the same time. If comorbidities are not treated in tandem, then the potential for one of the untreated disorders to trigger the treated one back is very real. For those with co-occurring eating disorders, this could mean eating disorder “relapses.”
When it comes to treating eating disorders alongside other mental illnesses, it is important to utilize some therapies and/or psychotherapies that can help identify and address the underlying issues that often manifest as eating disorders. Two effective therapies for this are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), both of which we utilize at Clearview Girls Academy.
The Importance of Individualized Care at Clearview Girls Academy
There is perhaps no better example of the importance of individualized care than the existence of comorbidities. Individualized care means individualized recovery plans. These individualized plans are the best way to ensure that all appropriate treatment modalities are included for a full recovery. From the therapeutic to the experiential to the neuroscientific, we utilize all of the tools in our recovery belt to best ensure long-term success.
The first thing we do when a new student arrives at Clearview Girls Academy is get her entire story, her current issues, and her future goals. This trifecta of information allows us to see our student as the entirety of her personhood, unlike some centers that seem to focus solely on someone as their diagnosis. We see our students as unique and independent individuals at Clearview Girls Academy.
One of our maxims here at Clearview Girls Academy is “Lighting Her Path.” This means we take our students struggling in the darkness of mental illness out into the light. Then we shine that light so they can walk in the direction of the positive and fulfilling life they have always deserved.
While it is not uncommon for many issues of mental health to co-occur, eating disorders are one of the more common mental health comorbidities. This is often because eating disorders arise out of deeper emotional issues and traumas that can be related to other mental illnesses. A big factor in many individuals’ eating disorders is control. For those with eating disorder comorbidities, the need for control can arise out of wanting to manage another co-occurring disorder. If you feel like your daughter may be struggling with an eating disorder, we can help. For more information on eating disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders, please reach out to Clearview Girls Academy at (888) 796-5484.