When Annie Seal’s daughter was 15, she was diagnosed with an eating disorder. After intensive, comprehensive treatment, she has fully recovered, and is now a junior in college. But there is not always a happy ending for those with this complex illness. For 20 percent of them, it’s a fatal disease, Seal says.
And as board VP of the Missouri Eating Disorders Association, Seal is working to spread the word and encourage education, early intervention and treatment for the often-stigmatized disease. “Many think eating disorders are a choice, and that’s really not the case,” she notes. “They are biologically based, complex and serious illnesses.”
With eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating, affecting some 500,000 Missourians and only 10 percent receiving treatment, the association is striving to expand its mission of hope, compassion and education to fight the disease. The group has taken its curriculum to 10 local middle and high schools, educating nurses, counselors, coaches and teachers about how to identify those at risk and support students with eating disorders. “Teachers, not parents, often see it first,” Seal notes. The sessions include information about intervening with students and their families, overcoming the stigma and ensuring students have success at school after recovery.
Signs to watch for include extreme weight loss, vague complaints about stomach pain and unexplainable variations in behavior, grades and activities, such as isolation from friends, Seal says. “There often are vague symptoms, but when you start to put the pieces together, you can see this is what could be going on and encourage the student and family to get a professional assessment.” And while the disease most commonly affects girls and women between the ages of 12 and 25 of any race or socioeconomic status, it is becoming more prevalent in boys and men, according to the association.
To further its footprint, the association will hold its first-ever benefit gala, with presenting sponsor Castlewood Treatment Center, and host and honorary chair Virginia Kerr of KMOV's Great Day St. Louis, on May 18 at St. Louis Frontenac Hilton. The event, which will include dinner, dancing, live music and a silent auction, will help give the association an even bigger voice.
That voice also is supporting efforts to make eating disorder treatment more accessible. The association and Rep. Rick Stream of Kirkwood, whose daughter passed away from an eating disorder, are backing Senate Bill 161/House Bill 132, which would authorize an actuarial study for eating disorders insurance reform. Because of the disease's complexity and severity, it typically requires comprehensive treatment to recover—and that means medical expenses beyond current insurance coverage, Seal explains. But recovery is highly attainable, she adds.
Castlewood Treatment Center, the presenting sponsor of the association’s gala, is one of those havens for recovery. Under the clinical leadership of Dr. Jim Gerber and the administrative management of CEO Nancy Albus, the center offers comprehensive and individualized residential and intensive outpatient treatment for the full range of eating disorders and their co-occurring issues at its facilities in Ballwin, Fenton and Monterey, Ca. The association and local treatment centers like Castlewood are working together to shed light on the disease. "All of us have experience with it, whether it was our child, ourselves, or we have provided others with treatment," Seal says. "This is a serious and often fatal illness, and we have to overcome the shame associated with the disease that keeps it hidden.”
ON THE COVER: Castlewood Treatment Center presents the Missouri Eating Disorders Association Benefit Gala to raise awareness, education and funds for the fight against eating disorders on May 18 at St. Louis Frontenac Hilton. Pictured on the cover: (Top) Judy Clifford, Annie Seal, Lisa Iken-Sokolik, Greg Luzecky; (bottom) Rebecca Lester, Virginia Kerr, Jane Rubin, Ina Hughes. For more information, call 726-1503 or visit moeatingdisorders.org.