An anorexia sufferer who cycled the length of Britain to raise money for mental health classes in school was the chief speaker at a conference on how to support other patients.
Hope Virgo, author of Stand Tall Little Girl and founder of the Dump the Scales campaign for eating disorders was at an Eating Disorders Symposium last weekend at Springfield Hospital, Tooting.
It was hosted by South West London and St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust (SWLSTG) to mark the start of national Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which ends on Friday.
Hope, pictured above, who cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise almost £3,000 for mental health lessons in schools, said: “Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, yet we still live in a society where people believe them to only affect those who are underweight.
“It is a complete injustice that people are still being turned away on the basis of their appearance or weight.
“As a result of this I am absolutely delighted to have been working closely with SWLSTG over the last few months to co-produce a resource which will directly tackle the issues that have been raised by thousands of people all over the country affected by eating disorders, barriers that currently stop them from getting the support they need.
“Having worked with clinicians directly, the resource will help everyone to better understand eating disorders and those seeking support.”
Hope, from Earlsfield, launched a campaign two years ago calling for government guidance on eating disorders to be revised so more people get support. The petition, Eating Disorders are not just about weight #dumpthescales, which has now attracted more than 100,000 signatures.
She was also in the House of Commons on Monday talking about the problem.
She struggled with anorexia from the age of 13. She hid her anorexia from everyone around her, when privately she felt trapped and isolated. Her life spiralled out of control, and she was admitted to hospital.
Hope, an ambassador for mental health charity the Shaw Mind Foundation, wrote about her experiences in Stand Tall Little Girl, written jointly with her mother.
She said: “I used to argue with my parents at every meal time. Some nights, when I didn’t have the energy to fight with them, I would eat dinner quickly then head up to the bathroom and make myself sick.
“After ensuring that every bit of food was out of my body, I would go in to my room, work out for a few hours, and then climb into bed in the early hours of the morning.
“It was those evenings I felt completely alone and afraid. I didn’t know what had happened, and I felt like nobody understood what I was going through.
“One in every three schoolchildren is living with a mental illness and yet there are still so little resources available. The Shaw Mind Foundation’s ambition is to fight stigma and end the shame felt by so many sufferers of mental illness, and they plan to do so by pushing for mental health education.
“I found it therapeutic but people who had not known my history would look me up and down, to see evidence of the disorder and be judgemental about it. I just had to deal with that.”
The conference at Springfield Hospital hosted more than 60 current and former staff and patients, carers, families and friends.
South West London and St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust has created a guide for people to understand how to understand and support those with eating disorders here.
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