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Roles of teachers and other educational professions(OEP)

Out with the immediate family, teachers or other educational professionals may be the first to notice signs of someone with an eating disorder. It can be difficult to know how to approach this as weight is such a delicate subject, particularly for teenagers.

It is imperative in the first instance to check the local policy on workplace disclosure/guideline on expressing concern directly to a student. This is particularly important when working with those under the age of 18. Some schools may have a list of those pupils with known mental health problems that are already being addressed and so no further action is necessary.

If the workplace policy/procedure allows for the professional to express concern directly, there is a useful guide to how to do so below. It has been developed by Professor Janet Treasure, an eminent Psychiatrist in the field of Eating Disorders, and her team at Kings College London. Permission has been kindly allowed for the use of their guide on this topic. It is an area that requires great tact and flexibility as individuals who may have an eating disorder can become upset and sometimes angry that someone has noticed the problem.

Advice from King's College London

Try to create openings for the individual to talk freely.

For example, you could say:

  • ‘I can’t help noticing that things are quite difficult for you at the moment, would you like to talk about or is there anything I can do?’...
  • ‘Is everything ok at school, work, university, at the moment?’...
  • ’You seem slightly anxious, low, distracted.’

Build trust and pass no judgement.

Remember, challenges and concerns will be met by:

  • ‘nothing’s wrong’;
  • ‘I’m fine, everything’s okay thanks’;
  • ‘I just haven’t really felt like eating much recently but it will pass, don’t worry.’

Don’t give up and continue challenging, voicing your concerns and watching.

  • Let the individual know that you know they have a problem.
  • Breaking the secrecy of the illness removes some of its power.

Make a list of signs that you have observed that make you think your child or friend has an eating disorder (see signs of an eating disorder page).

  • Talk to them about your worries, confusion and uncertainties.
  • Give them the opportunity to express their point of view.
  • Ask them to come to the GP with you.
  • Teachers and lecturers have a role to play too and should take any initial suspicions they have seriously.

Raise awareness in meetings and ask other staff to watch for characteristic behaviours. These include:

  • Isolation
  • Absence from lunch
  • A faultless academic record and thorough, meticulous written work
  • A keenness for physical education and calorie consuming sport
  • Enthusiasm for academic work related to food like home economics
  • A nutrition degree or aspirations to be a dietician.

Show concerns but focus chats away from food issues. Look at the wider picture: friends, family life, bullying, academic work.

Seek help 

  • Contact the institution or school counsellor or head of pastoral care. Talk to beat for advice and encourage the individual to do the same.
  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists website includes readable and well-researched information about eating disorders for teachers, as well as for parents and young people.

If the situation continues to deteriorate, tell the individual of your great concern and gain consent to involve their parents. At home too, they may have been aware of difficulties. Occasionally, confidentiality may have to be breached regardless of an individual student’s wishes.

This material is bound by copyright laws pertaining to the Kings college London website and should not be reproduced, altered or shared without permissions. If you wish to use for personal use please click to on the source link. Source http://www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/depts/pm/research/eatingdisorders/help.aspx  Copyright permissions granted.

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