It’s a well-documented fact that many people don’t seek necessary physical- and mental-health treatment. When it comes to eating disorders, it’s reported that 1 in 10 don’t seek the help that they need.

Considering that eating disorders come with severe medical complications and an increased risk of mortality (over 12 times that seen in people without an eating disorder), the need to support people to seek treatment is obvious. So, what do you do when you have a patient who is reluctant to seek help for an eating disorder?

1) Ensure they’re not at immediate risk.

Although people with an eating disorder may look (and, often report feeling) “fine”, they are at high risk of mortality (through heart failure, suicide, and other complications). Consult the Clinical Guidelines and ensure that your patient doesn’t meet medical or psychiatric criteria for an inpatient admission. If you are unsure and need additional support, QuEDS (formally, EDOS) is available for professional support via email or phone (07) 3114 0809.

2) Provide them with information.

Research conducted at the Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI; in Western Australia) demonstrated that one single session alone (aimed at providing accurate information in a compassionate and therapeutic manner) was effective in reducing eating disorder symptomology. For a comprehensive library of the psychoeducation provided to patients during the single session intervention, refer to the CCI website.

3) Engage their loved ones.

In many instances, knowing that their loved ones are concerned about them can encourage otherwise reluctant individuals to seek treatment. The Eating Disorder Association provides free training, education, supportive counselling, and referral for carers of those with an eating disorder.

4) Direct them to FREE phone counselling and/or consultations.

In other cases, people may be ready to recovery but are unable to overcome other barriers to engaging in treatment. They might worry that they’re not “sick enough” for treatment. They might fear being judged or disliked by their treatment professional. Or, perhaps there is too much uncertainty around what treatment will entail. For this, and many other reasons, Centre for Integrative Health offers FREE, obligation-free phone consultations for all new patients.

4) Link them in with an app.

Although not a replacement for evidence-based, in-person treatment, the ‘Recovery Record‘ app (developed in collaboration with Stanford University and the National Institute of Mental Health) has been shown to encourage users to seek professional support with over 50,000 views of NEDA’s helpline in the 6 months following its release. Along with offering an online recovery-aimed program, the app allows users to log meals eaten, answer questions developed by clinicians, and connect to professional help.

5) Follow up.

Speaking up and asking for help is hard. The fact that you have a patient who has confided in you is a testament to you and your rapport with the patient. Don’t underestimate the value you can add to even the most resistant and reluctant patient by continuing to engage them regularly in a meaningful way until they are ready to take the first step towards getting the specialist support that they need. If this is the situation you find yourself in with a patient, don’t forget that there are services (i.e., QuEDS) that are available to provide advice, support, training and education for medical and health professionals.

For more information and support, please refer to the following specialist services: