Being diagnosed with an eating disorder can come with a whole new vocabulary. Today, I want to walk you through one of the most frightening sounding words you may hear as you talk with a clinician about your mental health: a “comorbidity”.
Q: What is a comorbidity?
A: A comorbidity is a terrifying-sounding word that means a disorder is present at the same time as another disorder. You can have an eating disorder and anxiety, for example, and those would be considered “comorbidities”.
Q: What are common comorbidities with an eating disorder?
A: Common comorbidities with eating disorders are OCD (35% prevalence), anxiety (36%), and depression (50-70%). This means that 35% of people with an eating disorder also have OCD, 36% will have an eating disorder and also anxiety, and somewhere between 50-70% will present with an eating disorder and also have depression.
Q: How is understanding this helpful?
A: When working to address an eating disorder, it becomes helpful to understand the entire landscape of your highly individual mental health needs.
People who are working on eating recovery may have different needs with a comorbidity of depression, for example. Addressing the depression through therapy and perhaps medication would become indicated as someone works to regain health in eating recovery. In treatment, the focus over time becomes not just recovery from an eating disorder, but also providing you access to the tools that are helpful for you to improve the overall quality of your life.
It’s also helpful to understand how different comorbidities may be impacting your eating recovery. If you were having a depressive episode- experiencing a hard time with motivation and losing interest in participating in life, for example- can you imagine how that might be impacting your ability to succeed in eating recovery? Taking a broad look at your mental health can help direct individualized treatment goals target what is most needed to ensure success.
Q: Which is treated first? Or can they be treated at the same time?
A: The first goal in treatment is always to ensure medical stability. Once that is ensured, treatment goals can be discussed and planned with your clinician to make certain that the targeted treatment interventions are meeting your unique needs!