Reflections from the NEDA walk
By: Cheri A. Levinson, Ph.D.
I was fortunate to join over 200 fellow walkers on Saturday to fight against eating disorders and bring awareness to the psychiatric disorder with the highest rates of mortality. I left the walk feeling extremely inspired. Inspired to continue the hard work that my team at the University of Louisville (www.louisvilleeatlab.com) and at the Behavioral Wellness Clinic (http://bewellproviders.com/) spend our lives on.
Perhaps the most inspiring part of the walk was the community of people coming together showing our state and the city of Louisville how many people are impacted and that we are not alone. As I said in my speech (read full transcript here) ‘…every day I have conversations with people, many of you who are here, many who are across the globe, but all who care about changing society and the treatment of EDs for the better. This inspires me.’ It was inspirational to see so many people come together to bring about change. It made me feel not alone, as I am sure it did to most all who attended the walk.
But I also left the walk feeling that a few messages still need to be communicated. A WDRB article (http://www.wdrb.com/story/36382951/hundreds-take-part-in-walk-at-bellarmine-university-to-raise-awareness-of-eating-disorders) covered the walk and highlighted two points. First, more treatment centers are needed locally. Second, there is very little research funding allocated to eating disorders. These messages need to be out there. But I also think that a word of caution is needed when putting these messages to the public.
More treatment centers are needed locally. Yes! This is a given. Our community needs a treatment center. We are a city of 1 million people, meaning at least 70,000 people in our community have an eating disorder. We need more access to empirically-validated treatments in Louisville. Key words here are empirically-validated treatments. We need to be careful about recruiting an eating disorder center to our community. Treatment centers vary in the quality of treatment provided. I can say from experience (and from research) that there is often a huge gap in the type of treatment that is provided and the type of treatment that *could* be provided. We need a treatment center in Louisville, but we need more than a ‘status quo’ treatment center that will provide sub-optimal care.
More funding for research is needed. Figures from the National Institute of Health show a huge discrepancy in the funding allocated to eating disorders versus other mental and physical health problems given the societal and personal costs. In plain language, research in the eating disorders is extremely underfunded. I am in the process of applying for three national grants. Two from NEDA and one from the National Institute of Health that would establish UofL as the primary site in a network of seven treatment development centers. In my opinion (which is of course, obviously biased) these grants hold the power to transform eating disorder treatment. Unfortunately, the stark reality is that the likelihood of receiving these grants are low, not because they shouldn’t be funded, but because there are not enough research dollars.
I do not see either of these issues as separable. The ideal treatment center is grounded in research and good research that has real impact is grounded in actual treatment. We stand at the cusp of an opportunity to create a world-renowned, state of the art, treatment, research, and training facility right here in Louisville that will provide treatment, development of novel treatments, and training, that our state (and nation) desperately needs. We are working hard at UofL and at the Behavioral Wellness Clinic to make these goals happen, but the more support, both financial and physical we receive, (which can only happen through awareness) the faster we can make this a reality, so that we can decrease the extreme amount of suffering and impairment that eating disorders cause.