Mental Health Awareness Month highlights the importance of acknowledging mental health as a shared human experience. A licensed mental health counselor supervisor and certified eating disorder specialist supervisor, Sara Hofmeier lives that mission every day as part of her effort to normalize mental health talk. “Whether we have diagnoses or not, we all have days where we are in a better headspace than others,” Sara says. “I think the more that a society can allow us to have those spaces for everybody, the less stigma there is around folks coming forward to acknowledge those struggles and actually get the help they need.”
As an executive director at Veritas Collaborative, she serves patients of all ages at the intersection of mental health and eating disorders. “Finding ways to create space in our communities, social circles, and families to ask for help or acknowledge struggles is really important,” she says. “We all have emotions, thoughts, and needs. I want my kids to experience a world where they don’t have to ever feel shame or worry if they need help with their mental or behavioral health.” Critically, Sara noted, there are simple steps we can all take to better communicate about mental health and show support.
The Correlation Between Mental Health and Eating Disorders
People in eating disorder recovery often seek mental health help in tandem with treatment. “Whether they have ongoing anxiety, depression or other formal diagnoses, there’s almost always other stuff going on in addition to their eating disorder,” Sara says.
Addressing mental health in its entirety is important for developing tools and abilities to navigate life successfully. “For our patients, recovery is not just about getting to a place where they don’t have a diagnosis anymore,” she says. “It’s about learning the skills and mental health resources that are going to help them become more resilient and well-equipped to overcome future challenges.”
After treating a variety of patient needs for more than 15 years, Sara noticed a pattern of behavior: her patients weren’t seeking treatment as soon as needed for fear of asking for help. “People with eating disorders often suffer quietly and very unnecessarily — especially kids and adolescents,” she says. “We know that early intervention is really important and creating space for conversation with mental health, in general, can only have positive impacts on everyone.”
Normalizing mental health and behavioral health dialogue can help people with eating disorders experience safety in their communities and seek help sooner. Sara shares the following advice for people struggling with an eating disorder and working to maintain their mental health:
Acknowledge That It’s Hard
Recognizing the difficulty of eating disorder treatment and sharing the experience with a support system is an important first step toward recovery. “The ability to understand your challenges, what you need more support with, and that these might change over time is what’s hard,” Sara says. “What you need help with is going to change at different points in your recovery journey.”
The Opposite of an Eating Disorder is Not Perfection
“Recovered life is messy, and I want folks to know that being in recovery is still going to mean you need help,” she says. “It’s really important to not judge yourself for still having days where you struggle, even if your eating disorder is in a fantastic place. Everybody has rough days.”
Mental health needs can be difficult to separate from eating disorders and other common challenges. Everyone has mental health needs and it’s important to normalize conversations about them in everyday life. The more proactive we are in discussing our needs, the more apt we are to notice changes in ourselves and others.
Reframe the Definition of Self-Care
Sara urges that self-care doesn’t need to be a grand, elaborate practice. “Your self-care doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s,” she says. “It only has to work for you.” Self-care can be as simple as setting an alarm before the rest of the house gets up to have a few minutes of quiet or meal prepping on Sundays to make the week a little less stressful. It can also be not doing something, such as turning off the news or talk radio if it’s what you need to be in a better headspace. “You may already be doing things that are caring for yourself that you just aren’t calling self-care,” Sara says. “It’s important to think about self-care as something you do for yourself to literally just take care of you and your needs.”
Similar to self-care, self-talk refers to the messages you give yourself — both positive and negative. “It’s about finding ways to give positive affirmations and coaching yourself through rough moments to keep going,” she says. “But it’s also about catching the negative self-talk that we all sometimes slip into and not letting that become your primary narrative.”
How to Support a Loved One with an Eating Disorder
Simply being available is a tremendous way to show support. “Whether it’s in your home, social circle, or with anyone, create a safe space to simply talk about mental health needs free of judgment and shame,” she says. “Normalize saying things like ‘wow, my depression thoughts are really loud right now,’ or ‘my anxiety is yelling at me lately.’”
It’s also important to create a space for children to talk about their mental health needs, independent of their eating disorder. “There’s never a time when it’s not okay to need help,” Sara says. “You don’t have to have an answer. Simply being someone who is always there is one of the best things you can provide.”
How to Support Your Mental Health as a Caregiver
The caregiver role can be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining and it can be difficult to find time for self-care.“There’s often a lot of guilt for caregivers around taking a break, engaging in self-care, or doing something that’s not related to supporting their loved one,” she says.
Caregivers should take a break, ask for help and prioritize their commitments. Whether that’s finding a therapist to talk about their own needs, protecting a self-care routine, or turning down social invitations, they should give themselves permission to prioritize tasks that will support their mental health. “They should remember that they’re still a person who has needs,” Sara says. “It’s also ok for caregivers to give themselves permission to say no to anything that interferes with their mental health needs.”
Mental Health Awareness Month is for everyone. We all have unique mental health needs, experiences, successes, and challenges. The more we talk about them, prioritize them and support them, the more spaces we create for others to feel safe and comfortable. At Veritas, we believe in treating the whole person on their eating disorder recovery journey. If you or a loved one are considering treatment, discover our array of resources.
About the Author
Sara Hofmeier is a Licensed Professional Counselor, having earned her Master’s in Counseling from UNC Greensboro. Hofmeier has been working with patients with eating disorders since 2007 and comes to Veritas from the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders where she was the program’s Clinical Director and an Assistant Professor. Hofmeier has experience providing individual, group, and family therapy for patients with eating disorders across multiple levels of care including inpatient, partial hospitalization, and outpatient treatment settings. In addition to her experience in direct patient care, Hofmeier has extensive experience providing supervision and training to new therapists and particularly enjoys providing supervision around the care and treatment of patients with eating disorders.
Hofmeier strongly believes in an evidence-informed approach to best practice treatment and pulls from several therapeutic approaches in her work with patients and families with eating disorders, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and the Maudsley model of Family-Based Treatment. Hofmeier also believes in a collaborative and strengths-based approach to treatment and particularly enjoys helping patients find new ways to describe their experiences and struggles in a non-judgmental manner as they move toward recovery.