One in three eating disorder sufferers experience stigma or discrimination in the workplace according to a survey by Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses affecting 725,000 men and women of all ages and backgrounds in the UK. The charity surveyed more than 650 people with experience of an eating disorder and found other failings by employers:
- 40% said their employers’ impact on their recovery was ‘unhelpful’
- Two thirds of people were unable to access support for their eating disorder at work
- 38% told us they used annual leave to attend medical appointments for their eating disorder
- More than four out of five said they didn’t think or didn’t know whether their employers and colleagues were ‘informed’ about eating disorders.
Andrew Radford, Chief Executive of Beat said “Employers can play an important role in supporting recovery. The stigma and misunderstanding experienced by so many in the workplace must be replaced with support and compassion championed by a formal mechanism of support.
“Our campaign has been driven not only by calls to our Helpline from concerned employers and worried colleagues but the knowledge that eating disorders represent a cost of £8billion in terms of lost income to the economy every year.
“The responsibility for early identification and treatment of these serious mental illnesses should not lie with the health service alone. The whole of society must act if we are to improve the lives of everybody affected by an eating disorder.”
Rachel, a 43 year old teacher said “I have often experienced lack of understanding and acceptance of this particular illness. I have felt shame in disclosing and accessing treatment for fear of retribution. I have had to pay privately for treatment to guarantee that I didn’t have to seek time off and so disclose my illness to my employers. I can’t sustain this with the average session costing over £200.”
Charlotte said “Although I have spoken about my eating disorder to my manager, this doesn’t seem to help people understand. She once said to me that she ‘didn’t know how to handle me’. She said that she would be contacting HR about me and my problems and that they would ring me at some point to discuss how I can be supported. Four months on, I’m still waiting for that call.”
Jessica from Hull tells story of how employers can get it right “While I was hospitalised with my eating disorder my colleagues kept in regular contact and I was overwhelmed by their support and acceptance of my situation. Apart from emails I also enjoyed a few hospital visits from them which was lovely and way beyond what I would expect from an employer.”
The charity, Beat and in conjunction with enei (Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion) are producing a best practice guide for employers and literature for distribution in the workplace which will be available during Eating Disorders Awareness Week (22-28 February 2016).