Eating disorder advocates around the nation are more energized now than ever before because The Anna Westin Act of 2015 is the first eating disorders legislation to receive bipartisan support at introduction in the past decade.
“Anna’s Law,” named in memory of 21-year-old Anna Westin from Minnesota, was introduced by United States Congressman Ted Deutch and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen during the Eating Disorders Coalition National Lobby Day, May 13th 2015, at a congressional staff briefing.
We’re pleased to say that “Anna’s Law” is steadily gaining support nationwide thanks to the collaboration of local, regional, and national eating disorders advocates.
To ensure that the Anna Westin Act becomes law, we need your help. Join us in this effort. Write a letter to your Representative– because people can and do recover from eating disorders when given access to the care they so desperately need.
At the congressional briefing in May, Chase Bannister, alongside Johanna Kandel, Dr. Edward Tyson, Brittany Viola Gonzalez, and Kitty Westin, addressed eating disorders treatment and discussed why “Anna’s Law” would not only help reduce barriers to treatment, but also ensure that physicians, other health professionals, schools, and the public receive training to identify eating disorders and help people get access to eating disorders care.
We’d like to share some of Chase’s words spoken on Capitol Hill that day, with the hope that you will join us in this truly important fight against eating disorders.
“Distinguished colleagues, advocates, policymakers, members of the press, and other gathered agents of the public trust,
I confess myself humbled to be at this table. I am moved by the vulnerable and sacred narratives you each share with us today through unique, beautifully-painful stories of loss, love, and life. The words of researcher and academician Dr. Brene Brown, perhaps, have never been more ontologically earnest:
“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”
Kitty and Brittany — and those of you seated before us — you are each embodiments of that courage, in purest form.
As I set about my charge this day to highlight the import of eating disorders treatment, to illustrate the indispensable nature of providing this treatment at the right times and at the requisite levels of care long-recognized by the medical and psychiatric communities — I pray I might borrow but a portion of your courage in speaking forthrightly about eating disorders treatment and the life-saving notion that following best-practices saves lives.
Whether it be in my historical roles as an outpatient provider or as center director of a residential eating disorder facility, or in my present capacity as a Founder of Veritas Collaborative, a specialty hospital for the treatment of eating disorders, I’ve invested the greater portion of my professional life in service of a single teleological errand — to advance the public’s access to best-practice care for those suffering with eating disorders, the most lethal of all psychiatric illnesses.
Eating disorders are notoriously difficult to identify. Insidious within increasingly-competitive academic and corporate milieus, eating disorders mask as a culturally-heralded ‘disciplined will’ rather than the devastating mental illnesses they are, cruelly chipping away at the most basic elements of common life — of bodies, minds, hopes, & relationships. Adding insult to injury, onset of eating disorders often occurs during adolescence — that vital juncture wherein bodies, minds, hopes, & relationships are meant to spark and to thrive.
Perhaps due to the complexities of illness presentation and the tragic dearth of comprehensive training, too few clinicians elect to labor in this vineyard. Yet it is precisely here — at the intersection of ‘desperate need’ and ‘limited tools’ — that expert providers are needed most.
As evidenced by the literature, these complex disorders require a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach, including the participation of physicians, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, nurses, and dieticians, alongside a consistent, steady dose of family involvement.
I highlight the import of families in treatment because I’m emboldened to say that eating disorder treatment without family involvement is incomplete treatment. For far too long, we disenfranchised the very people poised to be the primary interlocutors of care over the long haul. Research showed us where we erred, and practice-ethics righted our course.
We’ve learned a great deal about best-practice care as eating disorders emerge from locations of shame and shadow. Where treatment was once a scattershot amalgam of ‘eclectic’ approaches, a body of empirical evidence lends credence to a new standard of care.
For instance, we now know that persons with eating disorders are best served along a continuum of care, transitioning between greater or lesser intensities of care as particular center circumstances require.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Eating Disorders, now in its 3rd edition, delineates this continuum — a blueprint of sorts designed to meet the treatment needs of patients and families at specific markers of severity. Outpatient care, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, residential treatment, and inpatient care – words many of us have encountered in various spheres – are key to any initiative seeking to alter the eating disorders landscape for the better.
Unfortunately, access to specialty services at any of these levels of care is remarkably limited, even as we know that eating disorders carry a potent mortality risk more than 12 times that of their peers, claiming a life in this country every 62 minutes.
Recent expansion and revision of formal eating disorders diagnoses has increased our estimates of the number of Americans with eating disorders to as many as 24 million, more than double the previous figure.
The many advancements we’ve made in the understanding and treatment of eating disorders are still dwarfed by the enormity of the problem. For clinicians, the sheer magnitude of these numbers galvanizes us to speak up, for we know eating disorders are neither easy to diagnose nor simple to treat.
Plainly spoken, our citizenry is in need, and the status quo is unacceptable, if not unconscionable.
For interestingly, despite the final regulations of the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act — specifically highlighting Residential Care as a vital part of healthcare service delivery — increasing restrictions to health insurance benefits and coverage remain a major obstacle for many families…families simply seeking adequate care for the loved ones they’re charged to protect.
Whereas for years the treatment community has collectively honored the APA Guidelines as the baseline protocol for discerning the appropriate medical and psychiatric placements for patients along the treatment continuum, we find many insurers use their own, far more constrained, and sometimes self-created criteria to adjudicate who deserves care and who does not.
Families often feel forced to choose between trusting their center providers or acquiescing to the opinion of a reviewer, who knows their loved one on paper alone. Artificially abbreviated treatment and opaque discharge criteria are common ingredients to relapse, as well as emotional toil and financial burden.
Due to inherent complexities at the intersection of mental & physical health, severe eating disorders can be costly to treat. Yet relative to other accepted medical interventions, the treatment of eating disorders using best practices is actually demonstrably more economical. While seemingly counter-intuitive, data analyses show the costs of inadequate treatment for eating disorders (prolonged medical expenses from readmission after readmission, and related sequelæ of further health system interventions) far exceed the cost of treating to positive outcome. Were we simply to follow the APA guidelines (those evidence-based golden standards of care), we could thwart the revolving door of care and relieve substantial burden on the healthcare system as a whole. Short-term thinking about cost-containment for adequate eating disorders treatment, one might say, has no benefit at all.
More than two thousand years ago, Hippocrates held forth on this very matter, saying,
“Let medicine be thy food and let food be thy medicine.”
Eating disorder treatment exists because — time and time again — we’ve seen how the responsible provision of care restores hope and returns light to the lives of wonderful, remarkable people — and this world stands in need of their uniquely creative voices. This we believe.
Now more than ever, we hold fast to the claim that the vital enterprise of re-nourishing bodies and minds is (and must be) a ‘together’ sort of affair. We’re all at this table of recovery – family members, patients, clinicians, referring providers, advocates, researchers, teachers, universities, policy-makers, thought-leaders, and friends—and at this table, we unleash an unspeakably powerful force to aid those courageous persons doing the profoundly exigent work of recovery. Our commitment — one with another — could very well be the inflection point to save untold lives. So do join us at this table, for you are wanted here — and we’ve set a place just for you.