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You’re not alone: Male eating disorders are common and misunderstood, says Manchester psychologist

Exclusive by Paddy von Behr

Men with eating disorders are neglected because people don’t know how to deal with them, according to a Manchester psychologist.

Dr Phil Tyson believes there’s a political agenda around eating disorders, which doesn’t exist with other psychological problems.

And, to tackle the stigma effectively, people with the power to make a difference need to be taught how to do so.

“A lot of male eating disorders get missed because people just aren’t asking the right questions,” Dr Tyson told MM.

“I think in terms of practical things that can be done, healthcare professionals need to be much more educated.”

He said the number of men coming forward with eating disorders is on the up and increased awareness is playing a role in this trend.

However, effective help is not readily available, as the traditional narrative surrounding the issue has not been challenged.

Brooks Newmark, MP for Braintree, developed an eating disorder aged 17 and addressed the House of Commons on the subject this month, while former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott admitted to being bulimic.

He pointed to GPs, teachers and, above all, parents as needing a better education in how to approach the issue of eating disorders.

“They need to spot what is going on and to respond,” he said.

“I appreciate that we have budget constraints, but mental health care is almost the orphan when it comes to health care in this country.”

Mr Newmark accepted things have improved since his teens, but told the house his experience of isolation is still very common.

“I did not know what was happening,” he added. “All I knew was that I could not eat. I just stopped eating.

“The reactions were varied, and none was particularly helpful.”

Eating Disorders Awareness Week ran from February 11-17 this year, as leading charities did their bit to break down barriers.

Sam Thomas, founder and director of Men Get Eating Disorders Too, plays an instrumental role in campaigning for the male side of the issue.

He uses his own experience to bring people together and tackle stereotypes through the charity, which began as just a website five years ago.

“I knew first-hand the difficulty of getting help,” he said.

Men can interact on their forums, exchanging experiences and supporting one another, and build up the confidence to tackle the situation head-on.

“We know that a lot more men are coming forward to get the help and recognising their symptoms a lot earlier on,” added Mr Thomas.

“It just makes it a bit easier to get the help they need, knowing they’re not the only one in the world.”

However, he does not see the job as anywhere near complete and looks forward to growing the charity and helping more sufferers.

“There’s a lot of work left to do,” he said. “This is just the beginning still.”

Image courtesy of BBC Newsnight, via YouTube, with thanks.

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