I write a lot about exceptional women. Today is no exception. I’m writing about Anna Westin. You might not have heard of her yet, but amazing things are being done in her name.
Anna Westin was a 21-year-old girl from Minnesota who lost her life to eating disorders. Her insurance company refused to cover the costs of her inpatient treatment and the consequences were fatal. To prevent other families and friends from experiencing similar tragedies, Kitty Westin, mother of Anna Westin, established Minnesota’s The Anna Westin Foundation (now The Emily Program Foundation) and other resources to help people experiencing eating disorders.
I have to say the whole premise of this situation is confusing for me. As a Canadian teenager who required treatment for an eating disorder, in-patient and day treatment were free. I got help and I lived. It’s scary to think that if I lived just an hour away, I might not be here today, because my insurance might not have covered saving my life. So, why did I get to live and Anna Westin didn’t? This question haunts me, that geography and policy could provide two drastically different outcomes. It doesn’t make sense that this should be a reality, but some new legislation is aimed at addressing this disparity, and has bipartisan support.
The Anna Westin Act of 2015 is intended to improve care for eating disorders by providing training for physicians, health professionals, school personnel, and the public as well as treatment coverage.
Legislation is designed to address the Three Ts:
Training: Using current HRSA or SAMSHA grants, trains health professionals, school personnel, and the public on how to recognize eating disorders and prevent behaviours that may lead to eating disorders.
Treatment: Clarifies that the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 includes residential treatment service coverage, affording the same protections as other illnesses.
Truth in Advertising: FTC report studying whether regulation is needed for digitally altered images of humans in advertising and if so, strategies to achieve regulation.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. It doesn’t discriminate based on ages, races, ethnicities or how much you have in your bank account. While it affects people regardless of gender, women are 2.5 times more likely to be affected. NIMH estimates 10% of Americans are impacted.
WHAT ARE PEOPLE SAYING ABOUT THE ANNA WESTIN ACT?
Congressman Ted Deutch
“Too often people with eating disorders are forced to battle their illnesses alone because of stigma, lack of knowledge, and obstacles to appropriate treatment. That is why I am introducing the Anna Westin Act. Anna’s story has inspired me to keep fighting for better training for intervention and prevention, better protections for access to treatment, and a better understanding of the connections between the unrealistic body images that inundate us on a daily basis and these deadly disorders. Recovery is possible, and this bill will help that possibility become a reality for more Americans.”
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
“I’m proud to introduce the Anna Westin Act with Congressman Deutch to bring attention to the eating disorders that unfortunately plague our young women and men. Having medical professionals, school personnel, and the public be able to recognize the signs of an eating disorder, and improving access to predictable and safe care can only benefit our community. Additionally, encouraging the FTC, health experts, consumer advocacy groups, and advertisers to work together to reduce materially altered facial and body images in ads will help stop some eating disorders before they occur. We must continue to work for the day when young women and men do not take drastic and harmful actions to conform to an unrealistic ideal of perfection.”
Kitty Westin, Anna’s mom:
“It is hard to find adequate words to express how I feel about the Anna Westin Act. I feel great sorrow, elation and most of all HOPE. Sorrow because this comes too late for Anna and I miss her every day. Elation because The Anna Westin Act will prevent others from suffering like Anna and our family. HOPE because after 15 years of hard work and commitment I believe that together we will pass the Anna Westin Act and the result will help millions of people and save countless lives.”
LOOKING FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HOW TO GET INVOLVED?
Check out my friends at the Eating Disorder Coalition. The Eating Disorders Coalition is a coalition of Residential Treatment providers, advocacy organizations and entities, parents of children with eating disorders, and people with eating disorders. Additional resources can also be found at www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org. You can see the full press release here and this informative backgrounder.