Although it’s not always common for psychological illness to occur together, it frequently happens. For instance, teens might experience substance abuse addition and depression, one contributing to the other. In another scenario, research indicates that teens with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder typically have additional mental illnesses than those who do not have OCD. Depression, anxiety, and Trichotillomania (obsessive hair pulling or skin picking) are common co-occurring disorders.
Commonly two mental illnesses seen together are eating disorders and depression. The two are inherently linked. What starts off for some adolescents as a simple desire to lose weight, that desire turns into a dangerous compulsion to control behavior. Although it’s still unclear what makes certain teens at risk for eating disorders, psychological surveys indicate that depression is often a factor.
A study done by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that 24% of teens with bipolar (a disorder of both depression and a form of mania), met the criteria for eating disorders and about 44% of them had trouble controlling their eating. Other research indicates that half of all teens diagnosed with binge eating disorder also have a history of depression.
Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by eating a large amount of food within a specific period of time, accompanied by a feeling of not being able to stop, or a lack of control. Binge eating is also characterized by eating more rapidly than normal, eating alone, eating a large amount of food even despite not feeling hungry, eating until the body is uncomfortable, and feeling disgusted or guilty later. This disorder affects 3% of adults in the U.S., making it the most common eating disorder.
Depression also affects many teens with Anorexia, which is another common eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is a disorder in which a teen has an intense need to be thin and so severely limit their food intake. It’s a mental illness of eating too little. Those with this disorder often begin with a desire to lose weight, which transforms into a morbid fear of gaining weight, to the point of endangering their life. Being thin is a way of exerting power and control, which becomes the most crucial and necessary task for survival, despite the fact that they are harming their body and losing their life as a result. Teens with Anorexia fail to eat enough food to maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that anorexics are 50 times more likely than the general population to die as a result of suicide.
The research shows that there is a clear relationship between depression and eating disorders. Depression can lead to an eating disorder in teens, especially if the right circumstances are present. At the same time, there is also evidence that eating disorders can lead to depression. The latter is particularly true. “Being severely underweight and malnourished, which is common in Anorexia, can cause physiological changes that are known to negatively affect mood states,” said Lisa Lilenfeld, PhD, an associate professor of clinical psychology who specializes in eating disorders.
Treating a co-occurring disorder such as depression and eating disorders in teens requires each of the disorders to be treated separately. The eating disorder, for example, will require a doctor and medical treatment. The depression will require psychological treatment such as therapy and/or the use of psychotropic medication. Furthermore, the psychological treatment can facilitate the ease of compulsive tendencies towards eating, the inability to control intake of food, and the use of eating as a way to cope with underlying intense psychological issues and their related emotions.
If you think that you or someone you know might be using food as a way to manage depression or who exhibits patterns of disordered eating, speak with an adult you trust. This could be a parent, a counselor, a therapist, or even a teacher. The sooner help is sought out, the easier treating these co-occurring disorders will be.
Jaret, P. (n.d.). Eating Disorders Health Center: Eating Disorders and Depression. WebMD. Retrieved on July 23, 2014 from: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/features/eating-disorders
By Robert Hunt
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