Today the mental health community is facing two, invisible deadly forces which threaten not just our way of life, but perhaps our very lives as well. The first deadly force is the Covid-19 virus. Covid-19 shuttered our businesses. Brought national economies to its knees. Took the lives of loved ones. Splintered our communities. Exposed our human weaknesses. In many ways, it brought out the worst in mankind. Or so we thought. For Covid-19 was but the catalyst for something far more sinister.
The second deadly force is our own human frailty. Our fear. Our rage. Our ignorance. Our ego. Our sloth. When those conditions are combined, they inevitably lead to a perfect storm of cruelty, division, racism, and madness. Although Covid-19 has scarred us, it will eventually leave us. On the other hand, racism has been embedded into our consciousness, into our very existence. Sometimes openly and notoriously. Sometimes hidden and in the shadows. And yet always beneath the surface where we naively believe we can contain it.
However, the tenuous hold we believe we had on racism was shattered in the span of Eight Minutes and Forty-Six Seconds.
The time it takes to escalate fear and anger attendant with being isolated, sequestered in our homes, quarantined from life, and cowering before an uncertain and frightening future, into a nuclear like explosion consuming all reason, intellect and rationality.
The time it takes for the eating disorder community to hold up a mirror and recoil from the unsavory image appearing before our eyes. And so, the community responded.
Outgoing AED president, Dr. Bryn Austin responded with a passionate statement on behalf of AED.
Dr. Cynthia Bulik co-authored a statement paper vowing for growth, change and greater exclusivity. Her statement appears here:
Project HEAL sent the following email:
“Dear friends & community,
As Project HEAL’s CEO, I speak on behalf of our staff, board, and volunteers when I say: The violence and systemic injustice that Black people experience in America is unacceptable. Black lives matter. We will not be silent in this long overdue conversation about race in America, and we are heeding the urgent call to action we are hearing from the Black community. We must do better, and we will.
To the Black people in the Project HEAL community: we see you, we are listening, and we are so grieved over the unrelenting pain you continue to endure. You matter to us, deeply. We are committed to being actively anti-racist, both personally and programmatically. We are committed to self-examination and accountability, especially as an organization founded by two white women who represent the dominant ED narrative, and as a majority white staff. We will continue doing the work as an organization to unlearn and learn, and to be better allies and activists, both in this moment and going forward.
As a first step, starting now, we are offering an online Communities of HEALing support group specifically for Black, Indiginous [sic.] & People of Color (BIPOC) who are struggling with an eating disorder — click here to sign up. This group is free, as always. [bolding was by Project HEAL]
We stand with you, and we love you.”
Other eating disorder communities, persons and foundations issued similar proclamations.
On behalf of the Eating Disorder Coalition, Chase Bannister, its president issued a very heartfelt message:
Rebecca Steinfort, the Chief Financial Officer for the Eating Recovery Center issued a statement of hope and commitment for a greater future:
No rational thinking person can refute that racism is manifest even in what most people consider, “enlightened societies.” Racism is not genetic. It is learned. It is a condition based upon fear. A condition based upon insecurity. A condition based upon ignorance. A condition based upon irrational hatred. A condition based upon the wrongful belief that I am, in some way, superior to you.
We face a future of uncertainty. However, what is certain is that the high mortality rate of this disease indicates that research and treatment of eating disorders has largely failed and must be left in the past. Each passing death, each beloved son and daughter, husband and wife, parent or loved one who is taken by this insidious disease is a grim reminder of our failure. A gross institutional failure.
As the eating disorder community and industry express platitudes that they will work toward greater inclusivity, shouldn’t we first ask ourselves the very difficult question, “Exactly what type of quality treatment regiment are we bestowing upon the marginalized members of society? Right now, the answer can only be, “A treatment regiment that has failed.”
We have failed.
We have no generally accepted standards of care.
We have no generally accepted pharmaceutical intervention based upon collaborative research.
Research doctors, clinical doctors and treatment centers in general, do not collaborate and work together.
No legislative oversight.
No agreement on a legislative agenda that is designed to increase funding for research and lower the mortality rate.
Advocacy groups, fighting not just with other advocates but openly and notoriously attempting to harm other advocates who do not agree with their positions.
A small cadre of persons in such internal pain and anguish and who yet occupy what should be positions of leadership, attempting to derail professional summits attended by some of the brightest minds in the industry.
We have no accountability nor consequences for our failures or intentional acts of malfeasance. At a time when we had the opportunity to include the financial power that corporate giants could bring to the care and treatment of eating disorders, our egos and self-interest predominated. Those corporate giants which could have invested untold millions of dollars into the research, care, and treatment of eating disorders turned their backs on us. And the opportunity for real progress was lost. We failed. And those responsible for this horrific failure faced no consequences.
That is the reality of the eating disorder community today. That is the image we see when we look into the mirror. And yet, we have the arrogance to believe we should still reach out to the disenfranchised and marginalized and expose them to our dysfunctions? Isn’t that the very height of hubris?
Instead, perhaps the disenfranchised and marginalized people should take a look at us and ask, “Why should we subject ourselves to your incompetence, petty jealousies, failure to communicate, failure to collaborate, back-stabbing, short-sightedness, in-fighting and ridiculously high mortality rate?”
Perhaps, the disenfranchised and marginalized people should say to us, “We deserve better than what you can possibly provide. We don’t need your pandering. Get your own house in order first. Why should we possibly believe that you are capable of helping us when you can’t even help yourself? We don’t need your pity. We don’t need your white guilt. We don’t need your pandering. We do not care for your platitudes of inclusivity which you spew forth to make only yourself feel good especially since you are not offering any positions of power within your organization to implement real change!”
Perhaps they would say, “This past year, if you looked at NEDA, The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, The International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (“iaedp”), The Academy for Eating Disorders (“AED”), The Eating Disorders Coalition, and The Multi Service Eating Disorders Association, there are forty-one (41) executive officer positions listed. How many were held by African-Americans? The same number as are held by dead men … Zero.”
Perhaps they would also say, “What we do need is intelligent, evidence based, affordable treatment from a community which is enlightened, inclusive of all (including boys and men) and which presents a strong, united, cohesive message of hope for the future.”
Perhaps, the disenfranchised and marginalized should say to us, “Thanks but no thanks. We will forge our own path. We are united. We are, and will continue to be strong. We are one. We are what you hope to be one day. We are your goal. If you, as a collective community, ever get your act together, find a way to get the bad apples out, come up with generally accepted treatment guidelines, push legislative initiatives which actually aid in the understanding of this disease and learn not to bully, badmouth, and besmirch fellow advocates and organizations which do not agree with your narrow viewpoint, give us a call. We have faced generations of abuse, harassment and reprehensible conduct. We have faced and overcome obstacles which would destroy you. Our bond has been forged by the hottest fire. Our bond is one. YOU do not deserve US. You have failed.”
And they would be right. The “established” Old Guard will continue to set the rules, and the disenfranchised and marginalized will just have to obey and comply with them! Everyone here is equal. Some are just more equal than others.
The disenfranchised and marginalized will recognize us and our thinking for exactly what it is … Plantation Mentality.
We have failed.
How dare we expose others to our systemic failure.