Monday, 21 February 2011

What about your teenager's friends? What should they do?

My very dear friends and fellow Around The Dinner Table forum members, C and M, have produced a fabulous little video about how to explain the eating disorder to the sufferer's friends and suggesting ways they can provide helpful support. You can see it on YouTube by clicking this link.

What I especially like about this video clip is that it features two teenage boys discussing 'Mike', a friend who's developed an eating disorder, rather than the familiar angle of talking about anorexia as a girls' illness.

Friends find it particularly hard to know how to deal with a peer who has developed an eating disorder. After all, their friend has undergone a kind of scary Jekyll-and-Hyde type transformation. What's happened to them? What caused it? How can we help? What about social invitations that involve food - or school dinners? Will we ever get our old friend back? And, in the meantime, how should we handle it? These are just some of the questions they might be asking themselves. Close friends in particular can get quite concerned and may even worry they were to blame in some way.

C and M's excellent little video is a great starting point for any teenager wanting information, guidance and advice on the illness that has transformed their friend, how they can offer helpful support plus what they should and should not do.

Anorexia is a very lonely illness. It steals teenagers away from their friends and isolates them. Meanwhile friends simply don't understand. Ben, for example, used to be incredibly popular and had a marvellous circle of friends. But, once the anorexia had taken hold, he withdrew from his social group altogether - so much so that for a number of months he was completely isolated and couldn't even go to school.

One or two core friends tried to stay in touch - but Ben's uncharacteristic and unpredictable behaviour upset and almost certainly scared them. And of course, their best friend... the boy who'd always loved sport, who was a star 'forward' in the rugby team and who at the end of the summer had won the 1500 metres title for his House... was disappearing before their eyes.

The best thing we did to rectify the situation was to ask the CAMHS team to visit school to talk to a select group of Ben's friends (approx 20 girls and boys) which took place in November 2010.

The talk was along the lines of the info you'll find on C and M's little video. Ben's friends embraced this session enthusiastically and asked the CAMHS team dozens of intelligent and thoughtful questions afterwards.

Before the visit, even though Ben had been back in school for a couple of months, Ben's friends still tended to keep their distance, worried of saying or doing the wrong thing.

Ben, too, didn't know what he should say to them and kept himself at arm's length.

Since the visit, Ben's relationships with his friends have gone from strength to strength, especially with the girls who seem to find it easier to talk about things on a deeper level.

But a good starting point is taking a look at C's video on YouTube.

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