One of the most difficult things about battling with my eating disorder was also dealing with the other mental health problems I had on top of it. Comorbidity means that an individual is dealing with two or more physical/mental illnesses at the same time (NEDC, n.d.). For example, I was learning to cope with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as my eating disorder took hold.

For many individuals, an eating disorder may be accompanied by another anxiety disorder like OCD, or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The statistics for those with an eating disorder and having another mental illness is about 56-95% according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration. Other psychiatric disorders that are comorbid with EDs are major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorders.

Because of the high comorbidity with other mental health disorders, eating disorders can be difficult to treat. Sometimes they require the individual to see multiple therapists that specialize in different areas. It may also happen that the individual has to take multiple medications to help balance out varying chemical imbalances in the brain. It is especially important to be on the lookout for any new symptoms in your child, as it could be a sign that another issue is at large.

For me, it was pertinent to monitor my OCD symptoms as I began taking power back from my eating disorder. As soon as I stopped exercising to relieve my anxiety, my intrusive thoughts increased. For others, this could look like an increase in depression symptoms or more self harm thoughts. It is best to be proactive when in recovery, setting your child up for success. Whether this looks like planning fun outings, or making sure they are getting in some time in nature, whatever will help decrease symptoms from ED and their comorbid illness.

Comorbidity can occur with physical illnesses too. For eating disorders, this is quite common. There are a multitude of physical health areas that get affected when the body is not being fed properly or does not have a healthy relationship with food and exercise. It is important to address these issues with a health professional, if they arise.

I think a lot of individuals do not know how high the comorbidity is with eating disorders and it is salient to know because it can help your child get the help they need from the right providers. Know the symptoms for other mental illnesses and when they can start to overlap with eating disorders.

One last key point I want to make is that suicide rates for eating disorders are skyhigh. This means that it is especially important to know the signs that can occur before someone dies from suicide and to be open about checking in with your child. It can be a scary time and we want to make sure we are doing the best we can to help wherever they need it.

Continue to show how much you care for your child and praise them for their successes. Hold your head high and know you are doing the best you can right now. Give yourself some grace, you deserve it.

by – Intern Anna