Eating disorders


Age at interview: 19
Age at diagnosis: 15

Brief outline: Harriet was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at 15. After a couple of inpatient stays and outpatient service with adult mental health services, her weight stabilised and mindset started changing. She has now moved away from home to study at university.

Background: Harriet is a university student. She is single and lives in halls of residence. She is originally from Northern Ireland.

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Harriet started restricting food when she was about 15. She says she first felt that weight loss would boost her confidence and help her make friends. She also felt pressure over an upcoming beach holiday and decided to lose some weight. Harriet says restricting soon became irreversible and after a few months her mum took her to the GP. Her mum’s concerns were first brushed off but after a couple more visits Harriet was referred to a local adolescent mental health service.
While waiting for the appointment, Harriet saw a private counsellor. They were not specialised in eating disorder and Harriet didn’t find it particularly useful. Harriet’s condition got worse and she was eventually hospitalised for a few weeks. Because there are no specialist inpatient services for eating disorders in Northern Ireland, she was admitted to a general adult hospital ward. By the time of discharge, she had not reached a healthy weight and relapsed soon at home. Harriet had to drop out of school and go back to hospital. This time she was referred to a specialist adolescent clinic in London where she stayed for 7 months. During her time in London, her parents visited her and her brother, who was studying in London, came to see her regularly. 
When Harriet was discharged and returned home from London, she was 17 but was seen as an outpatient at the adult mental health service. Harriet says it worked better for her and through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and her own motivation her weight stabilised and she learnt to “challenge anorexic thoughts”. Accessing services was not always smooth for Harriet. There was a lot of shifting and changing among professionals she saw and she also struggled to be referred to the appropriate services.
Harriet has just moved away from home to start University in England. She says she wasn’t fazed by the change as she has always been independent and the transition has helped her take even more responsibility for herself. She is careful to make sure she eats enough daily and has seen the University counselling service a few times. Harriet says sharing kitchen and social spaces has been okay although social situations around food can trigger anxiety in her. Harriet wants to become a doctor and says she couldn’t do such a stressful and fast paced job and have anorexia. 



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