Saturday 16 January 2016

Why I'd like to go into Ben's old school to talk about eating disorders

When my son Ben fell sick with anorexia, back in 2009 when he was 15, his school was amazingly supportive. By early 2010 he was finding it increasingly impossible to be in school. He couldn't bear being anywhere near his peers, he was regularly breaking down in lessons and in the school dining hall, he was behaving irrationally and dangerously, he was exercising like mad at any opportunity and he was spending much of his time in the school medical centre rather than in lessons. And, of course, he was eating minimally throughout the day resulting in more and more weight loss.

Ben's dad and I figured that we could get Ben to eat more if he was at home being monitored through breakfast, snacks, lunch and the evening meal. By this time I was having to sit with him whenever he was eating; I couldn't leave him alone.

We also figured that Ben would be calmer outside the school environment. By this stage actually getting him to school each day was a nightmare and he'd rarely stay there for a full day. I was always being called into the school medical centre to pick him up because he'd broken down in lessons, at lunch or even before he got to registration in the morning.

Finally, we figured that Ben would get more work done if he was at home rather than at school. After all, he was spending much of his time in the school medical centre rather than in lessons. And, in lessons, he wasn't learning anything; his mind was whirring around with calculations on how much exercise he'd need to do to wear off the salad he'd just eaten at school dinners.

So one day we met with the Headmaster to agree a kind of home-schooling regime until Ben felt able to return to school. It turned out to be very, very successful.

Everyone at the school was incredibly supportive. Ben studied at home, even sat his GCSE exams in private, away from his peers, got good grades and continued into the Sixth Form, still mainly studying from home. The school nurse especially was the best support you could ever have (more about that in another post).

Yesterday I was on the school website, reading through a letter to parents written by the new Headmaster, talking about the importance of mental health issues within the school. He says:

... it is perhaps no wonder that 20 per cent of young people in Britain are said to experience a mental health problem in any given year, whilst teenage mental health services are buckling under the strain. In response to these frightening statistics, the school has been working hard to educate its staff over adolescent mental health and wellbeing issues... 

So this morning I've put together a letter which I've emailed to the Headmaster's secretary asking if it might help if I came into the school to talk to staff or pupils about eating disorders, especially in boys. I also pointed out that I am meeting with the psychiatrist in charge of rolling out the brand new evidence-based treatment model for eating disorders in Leeds - FBT (Family Based Treatment). So I could talk about this and how families can access treatment, etc.

Hopefully she will get back to me with positive news!

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