People often ask me why I feel compelled to write about eating disorders. The main purpose behind my writing is to provide awareness. It is extremely important in our culture and society to have a clear, truthful understanding as to the nature of eating disorders. There is another goal, though, that I hope to foster through my writing—to promote change. While gaining an understanding is important as its own entity, it is also crucial for this understanding to lead to change—not only change in mindset and behavior toward those suffering and their loved ones, but also a change in policies for treatment.
While I had the privilege of attending an eating disorder residential treatment center (at the time I was not quite so grateful), others are not quite so lucky. When one is diagnosed with an eating disorder, the patient is tested to see how much damage has been caused to his/her body. Depending on her mental and physical health, she may be sent for treatment. Treatment consists of various therapies, ranging from admission to a hospital, residential, or outpatient facility. Often patients resist treatment, as they have a fear of losing their disorder. However, these patients need to quality for treatment first and, depending on the state you live in and types of insurance coverage, one may not even be eligible for treatment.
In addition to residential centers, there are also treatment centers that are inexpensive that provide outpatient treatment—though these are rare—much like the one I volunteered for this summer in Israel.Through the help of a friend and wonderful expert in the field, Rachel Bachner, I connected to Agam, an eating disorder unit at Reuth Hosptial.
Reuth was started by a group of women in 1937 to assist refugees from Germany in their transition to a new land and culture. It has since expanded to a 350-bed rehabilitation hospital with countless social services, including the Agam eating disorder unit. It is a program for outpatients who no longer need hospitalization. The program provides psychiatric care and psychotherapy, as well as art therapy, movement therapy and an outstanding mentor program where patients meet with a mentor for meals once a week. The program is very accessible, as it accepts Israeli insurance and also has inexpensive rates for those who may not have insurance. The environment at Agam—and Reuth in general—was friendly, caring and professional.
Overall, however, treatment in Israel is even less accessible than in the States. Agam is one of the magnificent treatment centers that do exist, but these are scarce in number and difficult to find. (There are about nine hospitals with eating disorder units and some privately-run treatment centers, but the bed space is very limited and residential treatment centers that are not part of hospitals are difficult to find.) The number of people suffering from an eating disorder in Israel and the number of options of treatment simply do not match up.
But why am I sharing all of this?
I share these points and information not only to educate readers about the wonderful programs out there, but to express the need for change. There are countless individuals suffering from an eating disorder who are not getting the help they need and deserve. We must work together as a community to gain knowledge of what is out there as well as of the insurance reforms that are in motion. Additionally, with the upcoming universal health care law it is possible that there will be reduced benefits to subscribers and therefore limited coverage for eating disorder patients.
By understanding eating disorder treatments and what is and is not accessible, we can work to avail those who are suffering of their options, as well as move toward change to help all those in need. After gaining this understanding, we can all play a part in creating change by signing online petitions about insurance policies, writing letters and contacting local government about current treatment options, and more.
To learn about how you can help with change, visit nationaleatingdisorders.org and visit reuth.org.il to learn more about Reuth Hospital and Agam.
By Temimah Zucker