By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC
When it comes to eating disorders, it is not uncommon to assume that the more obvious signs and symptoms are what define these mental illnesses. However, this falls into the stigmas and stereotypes that are too often created about eating disorders. On the surface, it may appear that eating disorders involve a problematic relationship with food, but there are many more factors that interplay in the development of these diseases.
One common aspect of eating disorders that is overlooked is the frequency that other mental illnesses, such as depression, co-occur with eating disorders. In fact, is is estimated that more than half of individuals who develop an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, also have a comorbid mood disorder, like depression or anxiety . For some, it may be an undiagnosed and untreated mood disorder that triggers the development of maladaptive eating behaviors associated with eating disorders. Because of this common connection between mood disorders, like depression, and eating disorders, effectively treating and managing both conditions is essential to treatment.
Learning From My Own Journey
As a survivor of both depression and an eating disorder, I can attest firsthand to the hope that is found in the recovery journey. Is it an easy process? Not by any means. In fact, the diagnosis of co-occurring depression and an eating disorder can feel hopeless, even overwhelming at times, yet there are effective interventions that can support you through this recovery journey, even when you feel unreachable and at your lowest point.
Some of the most powerful tools for recovery from depression and an eating disorder include the combination of psychotherapy with medication management, such as the use of antidepressants. While some people may feel vehemently against the use of any type of medication for depression, there are several potential benefits that should be researched thoroughly and discussed with your doctor and/or treatment team as an option for your care.
Depression, like eating disorders, is likely influenced by several different aspects, including both biological and environmental factors. Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and antidepressant medication may be helpful in correcting this. Developing healthier coping skills with therapy, DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is also a fundamental part of healing and recovering from both depression and an eating disorder.
Individualized Treatment for Recovery
While our diagnoses may feel like a life sentence, it is important to remember that neither your eating disorder or depression defines who you are or what you are capable of achieving. Ultimately, it was through my own struggles with these comorbid conditions that I found healing and became inspired to help others do the same through Eating Disorder Hope. Wherever you may find yourself today, take the necessary step toward recovery by asking for help and discovering what treatment approaches might work best for you. Treatment for co-occurring depression and eating disorders is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and with the help and support of your treatment team and loved ones, you can find your path toward healing and recovery.
References: : Ulfvebrand, S., Birgegard, A., Norring, C., Hogdahl, L., & von Hausswolff-Juhlin, Y. (2015). Psychiatric comorbidity in women and men with eating disorders results from a large clinical database. Psychiatry Research, 230(2), 294-299.
About the Author: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website. In addition, she is a fully licensed therapist with a closed private counseling practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University. She has extensive experience in the eating disorder field including advanced education in psychology, participation and contributions to additional eating disorder groups, symposiums, and professional associations. She is a member of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp). Jacquelyn enjoys art, working out, walking her golden retriever “Cowgirl”, reading, painting and time with family. Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without support from our generous sponsors.