Medication for eating disorders blog 5: 14 tips for parents and partners when a loved one needs medication

By Deborah Etienne-Ward

Some tips about supporting your loved one when medication is suggested for their eating disorder

  • 1Firstly, the prescription of psychotropic medication does not mean that your loved one is “crazy”. Eating disorders require treatment just like any other type of illness such as cancer, diabetes, or asthma. Whilst psychological therapy is usually the main form of treatment for people with eating disorders, sometimes medications can be useful to alleviate symptoms such as depression, anxiety, binge eating, purging, and distress/ obsessional thinking around eating, weight, and shape. These symptoms are common in people with eating disorders; however, if severe they can interfere with progress in psychological treatment. We know that earlier gains in treatment are associated with longer term treatment success. Therefore, medication can be a good method to decrease severity of treatment interfering symptoms so that psychological therapy can be implemented most effectively and to increase the chance that gains are made early in treatment.
  • If it has been suggested that your loved one take medication for their eating disorder, it may be useful to go along with them to an appointment with their GP or psychiatrist (as appropriate). Open communication between professionals, families, and the person with an eating disorder is helpful. It will allow you to be informed and raise any concerns that you may have.
  • Many people find it difficult to accept that medication is necessary. Listen to your loved one’s concerns (e.g. worries about side effects) and encourage them to raise these concerns with their prescribing doctor.
  • Once they have started taking medication, ask how they are going, and how they are feeling about the medication. If they notice that medication is not helpful, or they are experiencing side effects, encourage them to visit their prescribing doctor as an alternate medication may be able to be prescribed. It is also important that doctors are made aware if the medication is not being taken as prescribed, or if they are not taking their medications.
  • With permission of your loved one you may wish to complete a Mood Diary to record mood, sleep, medication, participated activities, and psychological or physical symptoms. This can be useful to identify whether the medication is helpful or not, and can be valuable and concrete feedback for your loved one’s psychiatrist.
  • If your loved one has difficulty remembering to take their medication, ask permission to collaboratively discuss ways to help them to remember to take their medication E.g. suggest that they set a reminder in their phone, set routines such as taking medications after brushing their teeth, or use blister packs whereby others can check whether medication has been taken, and provide a reminder if it has not. Keep in mind however, that they may not want your help and it is important that their autonomy is maintained. They may prefer to discuss issues relating to their medication directly with their treating team.
  • Keep information confidential. Respect that they may not want every auntie, uncle, cousin, friend, or neighbour to know that they are taking medication.
  • Just because your loved one is prescribed psychotropic medication does not mean that you should treat them differently. Continue to do normal activities, talk about usual daily topics and interests, and treat them competently.

Some general tips about supporting people with Eating Disorders

  • 2Remember that the eating disorder is just one part of them. It does not define them. Externalise the eating disorder. Your loved one is not trying to be difficult; rather, it is the eating disorder that is hijacking them.
  • Be approachable, and supportive. It can be helpful if they feel comfortable to speak to you, without feeling pressured to do so. Discuss with your loved one how best you might be able to support them.
  • Read and learn as much as you can about their eating disorder to try to understand their experience. Try to put yourself in their shoes and acknowledge that living with an eating disorder is difficult. Don’t try to solve their problems.
  • Encourage their efforts and progress no matter how small it may seem. However, try to refrain from making comments about their appearance as comments such as “you look well” can be triggering for people with eating disorders.
  • Try to maintain a balance between acknowledging the seriousness of the illness, and positivity that recovery is possible- Because it is!
  • Lastly, supporting someone with an eating disorder can be stressful, it is important that you manage to get some self-care and seek support for yourself as appropriate.

If you find that you are having a difficult time adjusting to your loved one taking medication you can book an appointment with one of our psychologists at Body Matters. Whilst psychologists do not have prescribing rights and medication is mostly beyond the area of our training, at BodyMatters we are very used to hearing from parents and partners who want to discuss concerns and ways to best support their loved one. If you have specific questions regarding medication it is best that, with the permission of your loved one, you arrange an appointment with their GP or psychiatrist.

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