My friend’s in hospital with a serious eating disorder. What can I write to her?

Here is a young girl in hospital with anorexia. She is not allowed phone calls or visits from friends. Her best pal from school is desperate to tell her she hasn’t been abandoned. Their only lifeline is written letters.

My friend's in hospital with a serious eating disorder. What can I write to her?

It now feels like I can’t speak to her without awkwardly skirting round the topic.

And her friend wrote to me, for advice on what to write to this poor girl. Would you have advised the same? If not, what would you have said? Read on…

What to write to someone with an eating disorder: the problem

Dear Suze,

My friend has a severe eating disorder and has had it for about 7 months and is doing no better. She has had to leave our boarding school (albeit temporarily) to focus on getting better in a specialist hospital.

I haven’t seen/had much contact with her in about 2 months as she isn’t allowed visitors and has no phone. From having been my best friend, it now feels like I can’t speak to her without awkwardly skirting round the topic.

I have written to her a couple of times (as that is the only way in which to contact her) but have no idea what to write.

I know she doesn’t like talking about her anorexia, but I have to mention it.

On the other hand, I don’t want to speak about school/summer for fear of her feeling as if she “missed out” as she has been in hospital all summer.

Any advice would be hugely appreciated as to what my letters should contain & the best way to handle this.

I understand if this isn’t your forte, but any help would be amazing.

Thank you,

(NAME AND LOCATION WITHHELD.)

What to write to someone with an eating disorder: some possible solutions

My friend's in hospital with a serious eating disorder. What can I write to her?

Hi (NAME)

Wow, what a good friend you are to go to this trouble. She is a lucky girl.

I have no expertise in the psychological elements here, but here are some ideas you might like to think about:

Contact the hospital where she is and seek advice from your friend’s doctor or therapist on what topics (in letters) would be of most help to her. This may be something they’re very grateful for as a complement to the treatment she is receiving.

If that doesn’t lead to anything, try writing about the longer-term future and things you and she can do when she’s better … maybe sports outings, vacations/holidays, trying out new hobbies or crafts, etc.

She may find it easier to identify with the longer-term future as, assuming she’s not suicidal, that may be a more realisable concept rather than her thinking about what she’s missing right now.

Focus on on the longer term future, when she’s better

You might also talk informally about career choices you may be considering, and ask her what her ideas for own career might be. Talk about your shared interests in general terms rather than reminiscing about the past.

If she hasn’t much access to the media, you can share bits of gossip about your mutual interests. Keep it light though. And I don’t think you need to tackle the topic of her anorexia directly: it may be more appropriate to refer to “when she’s better.”

Don’t refer to your previous letters, or the fact you haven’t been in touch for a while. Just go straight in. She will have had a lot of other stuff on her mind over the summer, so it’s best to keep moving forward.

Be mindful that most eating disorders are symptoms of another problem.

What were your friend’s issues that led to her anorexia? Probably best to avoid those, but they might be worth raising if you get the chance to talk with her medical caregivers. It might help you understand her better and help her to focus on positive thoughts.

Although I expect you have researched the subject already, you may not have come across this website which seems to contain a lot of useful information. It’s a Canadian (as I am!) non-profit organisation.

Please let me know how it goes with your friend and I send you both my best wishes. I really hope she gets well soon and can get back to being your best buddy as you were before.

Suze xx

What advice can you give to anyone writing to a friend with an eating disorder?

Please share. Anorexia, bulimia and other related conditions are not talked about so much nowadays but they certainly haven’t gone away. For that reason, any help we can offer here will be time and thought well spent.

Sz

Questions about anorexia and other eating disorders? Go…

NHS Choices (UK)

BEAT Beating Eating Disorders (UK)

MIND for better mental health (UK)

National Eating Disorder Information Centre (Canada)

National Eating Disorders Association (USA)

Eating Disorders Helpline (Australia)

EDANZ (New Zealand)

National Centre for Eating Disorders (South Africa)

Eating Disorder Hope (India)

(Please Google for more information in your country if it’s not included here. Search “advice on eating disorders” in your own language.)

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