No One Should Die of An Eating Disorder: Justice for Averil

Posted by on Jul 22, 2014

Justice for Averil

Averil Hart (images from www.averilhart.com)

Today, Nic Hart launched a website seeking justice for his daughter Averil, who died at 19 of anorexia nervosa. Like many eating disorder patients (both here in the U.S. and in England, where the Harts are from), Averil was discharged too early from an inpatient treatment center to less expensive outpatient treatment. Despite being labeled a high-risk patient, she received insufficient care from her cash-strapped and ill-equipped facility. She died December 15, 2012.

Ever since reading it this morning, Averil’s story has haunted me. It’s not the first time I’ve found myself unable to let go of the name or face of someone who has lost a battle with an eating disorder. There are countless stories that can tug at our heartstrings, a whole world full of people who suffer inexplicable tragedies. But there is something about the stories about victims of eating disorders that transfixes me. When I read them, I feel as if I am grieving someone from within my own circle of friends or family.

I suppose the reason for that is obvious. In a way, they are within my circle. They have suffered and died from an illness that I’ve battled, too (and continue to battle). And what makes their deaths especially heartbreaking is that they were utterly unnecessary. NO ONE should die of an eating disorder. They are treatable, as well as preventable, illnesses. No matter how sick you are, or how long you have suffered, good treatment is available. No one should be barred from recovery.

So in addition to feeling profound sorrow for the men and women who die from these illnesses, and for the loved ones they leave behind, I also feel scorching anger. We know that no one is at fault for developing a mental illness. Yet our current healthcare system and culture at large belie that fact. Stigma is rampant. People roll their eyes at hearing about yet another eating disorder. Their sage advice often takes on some form of “Just eat something already.” And here in the U.S., insurance providers still do not consider physical and mental illnesses on equal terms, even though federal parity laws have attempted to change that. If they opt to cover any treatment at all, insurance companies typically limit the number of covered therapy sessions, days in treatment facilities, and appointments with nutritionists and psychiatrists. Mental illness is NOT given due consideration. And because of this, people die.

For eating disorder sufferers, what is particularly haunting is a quiet thought behind the sorrow and the rage: It could have been me. It’s a thought that bothers me every time I hear about another death. Somehow, despite the abuse that I inflicted on my body over eleven and a half years, it held on. And in the end, even though I brought that body to treatment, it wasn’t me who saved it—it was a team made up of compassionate people who recognized my worth and beauty long before I did. They took care of my body when I refused to do so.

So why do some lose this same fight, sometimes after even relatively brief illnesses, while others don’t? Why do some bodies press on while others succumb? It’s complex. But the absence of clear reasons, sometimes of any explanation whatsoever, can make the injustice even sharper.

Nevertheless, it’s no use to become weighed down by shame and sorrow. That won’t give meaning to their deaths, nor spare others from similar fates. So rather than embracing the shame and sorrow, let’s draw on the anger and sense of injustice that we feel. These are the fuel that will burn down the barriers that keep too many women and men imprisoned by their eating disorders.

The conversation MUST change. It’s time to absolve sufferers of blame they never deserved. It’s time to compel insurance companies and healthcare facilities to take eating disorders seriously and listen to the experts, who know what needs to be done to treat and prevent these lethal illnesses. It’s time to refuse to let one more person suffer the way Averil and her family has.

It’s time for change.

#JusticeForAveril


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