Today, I’m traveling to Washington, D.C. To make the trip, I worked three weekends this summer to earn comp time, booked a train ticket and hotel room that stretched my budget uncomfortably far, and did many-a-breathing exercise to calm myself every time I thought of the solo journey.
I’d better have a pretty good reason for undergoing this ordeal, I have been telling myself since making the plans this summer.
And in fact, I do. Let me backtrack a bit. At work on Friday, the employees in my division attended a presentation on how we distribute financial aid to the students who attend our university. The speaker laid out a complicated algorithm for how the need-based and merit-based decisions are made. But, he said there are always exceptions and special circumstances that arise.
One such “special circumstance” was a bright, young woman who was accepted to our college, but who in her senior year of high school was diagnosed with cancer. Medical bills began to pile up and her family’s insurance wouldn’t cover the necessary treatment. Her family feared they wouldn’t be able to afford her tuition. Thankfully, our financial department took her need into concern and made arrangements so that she could still attend the university.
I was happy to hear that the college reached out to a young person in need, and even happier to hear that this student’s cancer is in remission and that she is thriving. But I couldn’t help but think about how I’d lived the same the same phrase.
This year, I received aggressive, long-term treatment for my eating disorder. When I began treatment, I was malnourished, weak, fatigued, and cognitively diminished. Left untreated, my illness would have killed me. Insurance did not cover the 24/7 care that I needed, causing my family great financial hardship.is last year: “the medical bills were piling up and insurance wouldn’t cover the treatment.”
Would it even have occurred to me to ask a college for financial assistance as a result of my medically-based financial hardship? Would the college have considered it a circumstance that warranted its charity?
This is the same stigma that we in the mental health community encounter day in and day out. The stigma is not malice or prejudice per se. In fact, individual employers, educators, and other authorities do demonstrate great compassion when they learn that someone in their circle suffers from a mental illness. Where the stigma manifests is on the macrolevel. Mental illnesses are not given equal consideration as physical illnesses, plain and simple. Insurance companies do not grant equal coverage; employers do not afford the same leniency to their workers; and even friends and family might not regard these illnesses with the same sympathy that they would a cancer victim. When one’s illness originates in the mind, the community does not quite know how to react.
That’s why we in the eating disorder community are going to do something about it. Today, September 30, hundreds of sufferers, supporters, and professionals are gathering in our nation’s capital for the first-ever M.O.M. March. From the lawn of the United States Capitol, the marchers will demand that Congress pay closer attention to eating disorders — which affect upwards of 25 million people in the United States and has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. (According to the Eating Disorder Coalition, 23 people die every day as a direct result of an eating disorder.)
Then, on October 1, we will congregate again on Capitol Hill for the Eating Disorder Coalition’s Lobby Day. There, we will meet with the members of Congress and their staff to discuss the realities of eating disorders, the importance of providing ample access to treatment, and the need for improved insurance coverage. We’ll ask them to support legislature such as the FREED Act, a comprehensive eating disorder bill that would create centers for eating disorder research, ensure better training for health and school professionals so that they can identify and respond to eating disorders, and require insurance companies to reimburse for eating disorder treatment the same way that they reimburse for physical illnesses.
I’d say that’s worth the trip.
You can follow the March and Lobby Day virtually via:
- Twitter: use hashtag #MarchAgainstED
- Retweet posts with the hashtag and from @MarchAgainstED
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarchAgainstED
- March website : http://www.marchagainsted.com/updates
For Lobby Day on October 1, participate virtually between 9am-5pm eastern time.
About Joanna Kay
Joanna Kay is a writer in New York City and is recovering from an eating disorder. She is the author of The Middle Ground, a blog that deals with issues that impact people midway through the recovery process. You can follow Joanna on Facebook and Twitter, and additionally you can check out her blog The Middle Ground. Follow her HMC posts on Twitter with #AfterAnorexia