When children progress into their
adolescent years of life they begin to experience many changes. They undergo
physical, mental, and social changes. These changes can be hard to cope with if
the teenager does not understand why they are happening. Many of these changes can
come all at once. The teenager can begin to go through puberty and have many
changes occur in their body. They can also move to a new school where they need
to make new friends. New emotions or attractions may begin to develop as they
age and they may not know how to handle these feelings. These changes can be
misunderstood in adolescents, especially in our modern society. This is due to
social media and mainstream media glorifying certain body types and shaming
others. If a teenager cannot learn to adjust to these changes certain complications
can begin to occur.
A very common illness that develops
during a person’s teenage years is anorexia nervosa. However, the idea that
this can only happen to females is very misleading. According to Watson and
Bulik (2013), “Anorexia nervosa is a potentially deadly psychiatric illness
that develops predominantly in females around puberty but is increasingly being
recognized as also affecting boys and men and women across the lifespan.” Although
this illness does tend to target a specific age group and gender, it can happen
to both men and women. This may be partially due to the changes I discussed
earlier. When you are a teenager you are far less capable of dealing with these
issues than if you were an adult. The lack of experience and sudden onset is
what truly affects teenagers. Anorexia is a very serious illness that can have
lifetime effects on an individual. If it is overlooked or ignored it has the
potential to take an innocent life. These teenagers who suffer from anorexia
nervosa need proper medical attention and moral support to overcome their hardships.
Certain psychiatric illnesses can be
difficult to diagnose. However, anorexia nervosa has very distinct physical
characteristics that make it stand out. An obvious indicator that an individual
is struggling from anorexia nervosa is severe weight loss. This specific eating
disorder is characterized by a less than 85% of expected body weight for any
specific age and height (DSM-IV; APA, 2000, as cited in Watson and Bulik, 2013).
People who are suffering from this psychiatric illness tend to have a fear of
gaining weight. They are extremely preoccupied and constantly vigilant of their
body image and weight (Via et al., 2014). You would notice that someone who has
anorexia may be okay with cooking large amounts of food for other people but
would not want to partake in actually eating any. They may also be withdrawn
from family members and not willing to engage in many social activities.
Along with the physical symptoms of
anorexia research suggests that there is a hidden symptom not seen by the naked
eye. There are imaging studies that suggest that patients who suffer from
anorexia nervosa have several impairments in the neural systems. This data also
suggests that currently ill patients have a widespread grey matter decreases in
the neocortex and in areas linked to emotion regulations and reward (Via et
al., 2014). This is a very important discovery because now doctors can target
these specific areas of the brain that are affected during treatment.
Boys and men also experience eating
disorders. However, they tend to be more related to girls than boys. A prime example
is that college campuses that have a large number of female students, have high
incidences of eating disorders (Schwitzer, 2012). This is understandable because
when teenagers enter college they are undergoing a major change. These females
may be influenced by several factors that may cause them to feel self-conscious
about their body image. They deal with many stressors and may not feel
comfortable in their new environment.
Doctors use several screening tools
to assist them in early detection of anorexia nervosa. One of the most common
methods is asking the patient a series of questions that may help the doctor
decide if they are potentially at risk. The questions are rather simple but
very specific to people suffering from anorexia or eating disorders.
(2017) study provided the questions doctors asked potential anorexia patients:
The best known of these is the SCOFF
questionnaire, which consists of five questions:21
1. Do you make yourself sick
because you feel uncomfortably full?
2. Do you worry you have lost
control over how much you eat?
3. Have you recently lost more
than One stone (6.35 kg) in a 3-month period?
4. Do you believe yourself to be
Fat when others say you are too thin?
5. Would you say that Food
dominates your life?
Each ‘yes’ answer scores one
point and a score of >2 indicates a likely diagnosis of anorexia nervosa or
bulimia nervosa. (p. 833-838).
As you can see these questions provide doctors with preliminary
ways to diagnose patients with anorexia. This helps save time and money when
dealing with an illness that is quickly expanding. Everyday more and more
individuals begin to suffer from anorexia nervosa. The mortality rate of
anorexia nervosa is the highest among all psychiatric disorders. Long-term
studies report mortality rate of 20%. (Rowe, 2017).
nervosa is affected by both nature and nurture. Culture does have an effect on
eating disorder rates. In fact, westernized countries with urban areas have the
highest rates (Sigelman and Rider, 2015, p. 523). Our society is the main reason
for this. We live in a time and age where women who are thin are glorified and
considered beautiful. This shaming of average or over weight girls has had a
serious effect on not just women but specifically teenage girls. The daunting
part of this is that as this western perception of women spreads to other
nations their eating disorder rates increase (Sigelman and Rider, 2015, p.
523). The interesting part is that very few adolescent girls develop anorexia,
even though all of them undergo social pressures. This leads scientists to
believe that there is another underlying cause.
are what make all of us unique and individual. They are responsible for the
color of our eyes, skin, hair, and they even decide our gender. However, these
same genes can predispose us to certain illnesses including anorexia. The genes
in an individual suffering from anorexia may call for low serotonin levels
which is involved in both appetite and mood. Dopamine is also involved in
reinforcing compulsive behaviors that are that are involved in eating disorders
(Sigelman, 2015, p. 524). However, these genes alone are not the sole cause of
anorexia. There has to be a combination of certain factors that can lead an
individual to develop an eating disorder.
Most of these girls who develop anorexia
are genetically predisposed, living in a weight-conscious society and also live
in a family that enforces disordered eating (Sigelman, 2015, p. 524). This is
why the prevalence rate of anorexia nervosa tends to be so low. These girls
have to be exposed to very specific factors to even develop this illness. The
more exposure these individuals receive the greater the chance of having
Treatment for anorexia nervosa can be
tricky. It is very difficult because the patient has to be willing to change to
begin with. They must have the will power to want to change their ways and realize
that what they are doing is hurtful to their bodies. Doctors also face the
issue of trying to get these adolescent girls to understand that “thin” does
not equal beauty. That is probably single handedly the biggest obstacle doctors
face. This is not to mention the health issues that may have happened as a side
effect to anorexia. These girls have been basically brainwashed by media to
think that you must look a certain way in order to be attractive.
The most common treatment patients receive
is therapy. There are different types of therapies individuals can go through
to receive help. A study conducted by Hughes et al., (2014) proposes that
family based treatment is the most effective intervention for medically stable
adolescents. In the writing of Sigelman and Rider (2015), they also suggested
that the family therapy approach may have more lasting effects than individual
treatment (p. 525). These treatment plans focus on weight gain initially. However,
they also tend to focus on the family and how they can support the patient
through their struggles. The therapy allows small but gradual adjustments to be
made to the patient’s diet, with the parents being in charge. The responsibility
of eating freely does not return to the patient until they have gained
Another part of family based treatment
is to assess how the family itself views eating and how this effects the
patients. Some families do not realize that their habits may have a negative effect
on a patient. During the therapies, the parents are sometimes separated from
the patient and educated to respond more constructively to the patient’s eating
disorder. The more support that can be established for the individual the
better. People suffering from anorexia nervosa have a skewed perception of what
they should look like. If they have the proper support from their family, this
view can slowly begin to change.
Individuals with anorexia nervosa can be
overall difficult to treat because they tend to hide the fact that they are not
eating. They also resist admitting to having a serious illness (Sigelman and
Rider, 2015, p. 525). The diagnosis process for eating disorders is not too
complex which helps start the treatment process right away. The sooner the
treatment begins the more effective it becomes. People 18 years or younger
receiving treatment have a far better chance of recovering than others.
It is difficult to say if there are
preventative measures that can be put in place. Many of these adolescent girls
with anorexia nervosa have a family member, usually their mother, who practices
disorderly eating. This can encourage the behavior and make it more difficult
to treat. Also, social media and mainstream media is where the real problem
lies. This ideology that women need to be skinny in order to be attractive is
contaminating the minds of thousands of girls. This needs to end in order to
prevent anorexia nervosa. It is gradually becoming more prevalent and will
continue to unless there is a change. The mortality rate for anorexia nervosa
is the highest among any psychiatric illness. Once a person develops anorexia
nervosa it has a lifelong effect. Very few people actually fully recover.