We’ve written here many times about the serious facts and statistics surrounding eating disorders
- 30 million U.S. women and men will suffer from an eating disorder.
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health illness.
- About one person dies every hour as a result of an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are not a choice, they are an illness just like any other medical health condition. Yet those suffering with an eating disorder oftentimes do not have access to the same level of care that patients with other health conditions receive.
This lack of parity (equality) perpetuates the stigma, lack of awareness and misconceptions about eating disorders (and all mental health conditions, for that matter).
A big win for mental health & eating disorder treatment
This week, a major win occurred that is a step towards providing better support for those with eating disorders. In fact, eating disorder history was made.
For the first time ever, Congress voted to pass a very important mental health reform that specifically helps people with eating disorders as well as other co-occurring mental health diagnoses. This legislation, known as HR2646, “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2015,” is a monumental step towards treating mental illnesses like we treat every other chronic disease.
Highlights of the bill include the following:
- Screening and early intervention
- Community-based systems of care
- Enhancing the behavioral health workforce
- Innovation to develop new evidence-based programs
- Integration of health and behavioral health care
- Enforcement of parity in coverage between health and behavioral health services
- Incentives for Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) rather than mandates
- Elevation of behavioral health in the federal government, including increased coordination of services
- Suicide prevention based on the Garrett Lee Smith Act Reauthorization
Sections of the bill that specifically address eating disorders are taken from the Anna Westin Act of 2015, which was inspired by the tragic death of a young woman who lost her battle with anorexia. This part of the bill specifically addresses improved screening and improved care of individuals with eating disorders. These provisions provide:
- Further education and awareness of eating disorders
- Better training of health professionals and school personnel
- Clarification of existing parity rules (regarding group health plans and insurance companies)
Eating Recovery Center’s Informationist and board member of the Eating Disorders Coalition Millie Plotkin, MLS shared, “I had the honor of being in the House viewing gallery to watch the vote in person. The final tally was 422-2. In the current political climate, near-unanimous votes don’t happen very often!”
What’s next for mental health reform?
Millie reminds us all that this is just the first step. “Of course we are very excited about how far we have come, but it is important to remember that there are more steps over the next several months before this becomes an actual law,” she cautions.
In fact, three critical steps must happen:
- Hopefully the companion bill in the Senate will go to a vote in September. That bill is titled the “Mental Health Reform Act (S.2680)” and contains the same eating disorders sections as the House bill.
- After that, the House and Senate bring their two bills to conference committee to work out any differences between the two.
- Once that is done and everyone agrees on the compromise bill, it can go the President’s desk for his signature.
So yes, there is more work to be done on Capitol Hill.
You can help to make a difference
There’s more work for all of us to do, as well. We need to ensure that our state senators are fully versed on this bill and to hear how important it is to us and to those we love who suffer from mental health illnesses.
In the fall we will ask you, once again, to reach out to your Senator and ask them to support the Mental Health Reform Act (S.2680).
More eating disorder sufferers need treatment
We know that up to 80 percent of patients who seek treatment for an eating disorder will fully recover or improve significantly. What we need to remember is that not nearly enough sufferers are getting the treatment they need.
So there’s more work to be done now and long after this legislation becomes a law (fingers crossed!).
We thank you for your support
To those of you who contacted your U.S. Representatives, thank you! And let’s rally even more constituents to address their U.S. Senator.
“May your dreaming never end and your voice never die.” - Anna Westin, anorexia sufferer, b.1979 – d. 2000
Stay tuned for details about what you can do. Your actions will honor Anna Westin as well as anyone else who has ever been impacted by an eating disorder.
Millie Plotkin, MLS is Informationist for Eating Recovery Center and partner programs. She also serves on the board of the Eating Disorders Coalition and the social media committee of the Academy for Eating Disorders.