Seeing with your eyes wide shut: a comprehensive study of the effects on family members who live with someone with an eating disorder

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Haskins, Sheila
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BA (Hons) Counselling and Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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Background: The purpose of this study is to highlight the little support that is there for families and carers of someone suffering with an eating disorder. Previous studies blame families for their role in the development of eating disorders. Awareness and support is needed to highlight the impact on family members and their carers. This will alleviate the stigma that is still prevalent to this day. Aim: The aim of this study is to investigate what family supports are available and the impact to the family members and their carers of someone suffering with an eating disorder. The data will be collated through a series of semi-structured interviews. Method: Recent empirical and theoretical evidence around the family’s emotional and practical experiences of caring for someone with an eating disorder were examined. Participants were interviewed. They shared their experiences on how their lives were altered through stress and emotional upheaval caused not only by the disease but the stigma that is associated with this illness. The following themes were discussed: (i) the association between family functioning and the development of an eating disorder, (ii) the impact on the lives of family members, (iii) the lack of information available to caregivers, (iv) the high level of carers’ distress and the stigma associated with the illness, (v) sibling relationships. Results: Most recent results indicate and support the view that families and their carers become isolated and depressed as a result of living with someone with an eating disorder. As the illness monopolises and manipulates family structures families find that family members need to reorganise their lives in order to survive the full blow of eating disorder behaviours. Conclusion: Professionals need to address the needs of the family as a whole by implementing a more holistic therapeutic approach to their needs.