Advocacy Mondays: 5 Questions Answered by Sam Thomas, UK
Sam founded "Men Get Eating Disorders Too" (MGEDT )in Spring 2009 following his own experience of an eating disorder throughout his teens. Having had bulimia for eight years, he managed to recover in his early twenties. Reflecting on his experiences he realised being male was largely why he found it difficult to get appropriate support. In response to this he set up the original MGEDT website with the support of ITV Fixers to raise awareness of male eating disorders and provide information and advice that is specific to men's needs.
1. How did you find your path to advocating for families?
We’re fortune that Lynn Crilly (parent of a daughter in recovery from anorexia, counsellor and author of top-selling book ‘Hope To Eating Disorders’) is a Trustee on the management committee at MGEDT. some time she has advocated and supported for parents caring for their sons and daughters suffering from eating disorders making us all too aware of the specific and unique needs parents are faced with. Lynn has been instrumental in e-profiling MGEDT as a charity not just for sufferers but for their carers’ and families, too. Too often, it’s the parents that will spot the signs or at least something is wrong in their son’s behaviours ringing the alarm bells and typically we’d hear from mothers. More often than not it’s the women in the men’s lives that are first to recognise the symptoms.
With this in mind, we wanted to ensure that MGEDT supporters not just the sufferers but the family unit to ensure that men with eating disorders and best supported to go on to live a life free from the symptoms.
In 2015 we have launched our new online peer support service including live chat one to one and a new online forum containing two boards: one for male sufferers and the other for carers. Our online peer support services are available to anyone in need of support from the UK and beyond.Over the coming months and years, we are seeking to set up peer support groups for sufferers and carers initially in the South-east and further afield in due course.
2. What does your advocacy work consist of/ how do you define advocacy?
To us advocacy is facilitating and supporting sufferers and carers to get their voices and experiences heard. Those affected by eating disorders feel isolated, mariginalised and stigmatised – hearing someone speaking out so openly and honestly goes a long way to shattering the gender stereotypes. Peer support is also key to enable those affected to reach out and communicate with others in similar situations. MGEDT is committed to enabling those to network and be a part of an online and face to face community so no-one has to feel on their own. For parents this is especially important given they are in a supporting role and in need of support themselves.
3. What change do you hope to affect?
In a sentence we want sufferers and parents to feel that gender is not a barrier to support – after-all eating disorders have no gender and anyone can be affected. Ultimately we want eating disorders to be understood as an issue that anyone can affected by irrespective of age, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, social class and indeed gender. In ten years from now I hope suffers and parents of men affected will be able to seek help without the gender issue. Moreover, I hope that it would be ‘laughable’ that we ever thought eating disorders was once assumed female-only conditions.
4. What are some of the challenges/frustrations inherent to this type of advocacy?
MGEDT is presented with a number of challenges – mainly that men with eating disorders are not so quick to recognise their symptoms. They can be in denial for some time and reluctant to open up, let alone seek help. This adds to the stress on parents who often feel responsible and the sense of urgency for their son to seek help perhaps getting to crisis point before they do. The lack of recognition and understanding of eating disorders in men is another obstacle. Professionals can often feel that they are working in ‘alien-territory’ working with a man with an eating disorder. Our training for professionals aims to provide the knowledge and confidence they need to support men as equals to women clients, not as separate on the basis of their gender. Furthermore, is the limited support available for sufferers and parents of affected by male eating disorders. We tirelessly to raise the profile of the cause in the media and social networks to engage with those in need, as well as raise awareness of eating disorders in the wider community.
5. Top 5 things you would share with a family facing a new diagnosis?
1) Don’t panic – You are not the only family in the world facing a male loved one with an eating disorder. Reach out to others in similar situations via FEAST Round The Table and MGEDT Carers Forums.
2) Communicate – Keep talking with one another as a family and with your male loved one. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy and speaking about it – as hard as it can be – will help you move forward together as a family. Never let the eating disorder by the ‘elephant in the room.’
3) Support one another – Eating disorders are difficult for everyone involved and impacts on families in a way that nothing else can. The key to recovery is to work together at it as a family. Despite the challenges you can do it together, if you stick at it together.
4) Don’t go it alone – Support is available for families so speak to your GP or healthcare professional to find out the options available and don’t hold back.
5) Be positive – It’s cliché and obvious to say but being positive throughout the ups and downs is essential. People with eating disorders will stand a better chance of recovery in positive environments. Believing that they as the sufferer can achieve this, will mean a better chance that you will recovery from the eating disorder, together.
Sam is dedicated to raising awareness of male eating disorders and frequently talks about his experiences and of the issue of male eating disorders in the media and at conferences. Sam's work has been recognised in the Shelia McKechnie Campaigner Awards, Beacon Prize, Beat Awards and the Talk Talk Digital Heroes Awards.
Men Get Eating Disorders Too is an award winning national charity is run by and for men with eating disorders including their carers and families.
MGEDT www.mengetedstoo.co.uk provides essential information that is specific to the unique needs of men and provides an online space for those affected to get their voices heard (e.g. peer support via our forum and one-to-one live chat sessions). We also campaign in the media and organise awareness raising events and training for professionals.