Progress… The Anna Westin Act Passes

tom_h_info-picI want to pause for a moment, to recognize the historical impact of yesterday’s passing of the 21st Century Cures and Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, including key provisions from the Anna Westin Act of 2015. Those of us at Netsmart are fortunate to know Anna’s family and have had the opportunity to help tell their story over the last few years. Anna’s mother, Kitty Westin, spoke at our 2015 Connections and reminded us of the importance of the mission linking us all.

Eating disorders are marked by extreme physical and emotional suffering. Someone with an eating disorder experiences severe disturbances in their behavior while exerting a super human amount of will in an attempt to control their eating. They may eat only small amounts of food, they may eat uncontrollably, or some may alternate between unhealthy periods of fasting followed by bingeing.

The psychological stress they experience related to eating affects every aspect of their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The triggers are different for each person and often unknown, yet reflective of a deep, visceral pain. Eating disorders are indeed illnesses of both the body and the mind. Perhaps nothing describes the internal struggle better than the following journal entry.

“I am scared to death about what’s going on right now. I can’t have any control over my own mind. As much as I know what I need to do it’s so hard to. My moods are very extreme. One minute I’ll be depressed, then another, something will make me happy again.”

Those were the words of Anna Selina Westin. She was a natural beauty of just 19 years when she wrote them. Outwardly, she was a caring young woman, conscientious and generous with her time. She was a joy to be around and by all accounts, she absolutely “sparkled.” Inwardly, however, she struggled mightily. For years she hid the uncontrollable urge to deprive herself of the nutrition her body so desperately needed. There were obstacles that prevented her from receiving the psychological treatment she needed. Kitty Westin, describes the helplessness she felt after being denied by Anna’s insurance.

The insurance company, who had never talked to Anna, had never seen her, didn’t really know anything about her, said that it wasn’t medically necessary, which is obscene. It makes me very, very angry. Anna had a disease they didn’t want to even hear about.

In 2000, after a five-year struggle with the very real medical condition of Anorexia Nervosa, Anna Westin took her own life. She was only 21-years-old.

Fortunately, Anna’s story does not end there. Just as in life, her legacy will be to help others. On Dec. 7, 2016, Congress passed The 21st Century Cures Act. Within that piece of legislation was The Anna Westin Act of 2015.

This bill, introduced by Senator Amy Jean Klobuchar, D-Minn., is the first to address eating disorders specifically. It included the following provisions:

The Office on Women’s Health, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services revise both the BodyWise Handbook and BodyWorks obesity prevention program to include specific information about eating disorders related to both males and females.

– The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration award the following grants:

  1. To update and merge training on eating disorders into the existing curriculum for health, public health and mental health professionals.
  2. To states, educational institutions and Indian tribal organizations for seminars geared toward school personnel on eating disorders.
  3. To allocate available resources to individuals suffering from eating disorders.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health must make PSAs on eating disorders.
  • Amends the Public Health Service Act, ERISA and IRC –prohibiting them from permanently excluding any particular condition from being deemed eligible for mental health or substance use disorder benefits, including inpatient treatment.

Mental health professionals agree that training and early recognition by healthcare providers is key to saving lives. Removing the roadblocks that Anna and her family faced in receiving appropriate and timely residential treatment is a huge win for the millions of individuals currently diagnosed with an eating disorder as well as those who are suffering in silence.

The Facts on Eating Disorders – According to the National Eating Disorders Association

– Eating disorders affect around 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. currently.

– Struggles with negative body image and body dysmorphic disorder are some of the earliest warnings signs.

– Depression and other mood and personality disorders frequently occur with eating disorders.

– Despite the serious statistics, eating disorders continue to receive inadequate funds for research.

– 42 percent of girls in 1st-3rd grade wish they were thinner.

– 81 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of becoming fat.

– In individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, suicide is the second leading cause of death (after cardiac disease) and a major cause of death among people with any other eating disorder

There will never be a moment in which you are not you. Some may try to hide their existence away, pretending they are someone they’re not, but who is this act for? You know the ultimate truth, there is no hiding from yourself. The difficulty of it lies in our societies’ ability to create perfect illusions. – Anna Westin 

To learn more about the life and legacy of Anna Westin, as well as the journey that took her parents Mark and Kitty from grief to advocacy, visit our non-profit advocacy foundation, Every Day Matters and view the documentary A Journey of Love: The Anna Westin Story. 

If you are worried that you may have an eating disorder and need help; or if someone you love is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder — we invite you to visit our Support Resources page to learn more information about eating disorders.

If you are thinking about suicide or just need someone to talk to about your eating disorder or any other mental or physical problem, please do not delay and call the National Suicide prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.TALK (8255) immediately.

Lastly, I encourage all of us to consider becoming Mental Health First Aid certified. This course both informs and equips around essential fundamentals, providing tools to aid when need arises. Earlier this year I completed my certification, grateful as I was prepared to better assist and offer help in a recent conversation.

If we are willing, intentional in thought and deed, we have the opportunity to ensure Every Day Matters as we serve in pursuit of awareness, assistance, wellness and recovery.

So yes…goodness happened yesterday, progress indeed, but we have more work to do!

#Cures #CuresAct #CuresNow #MentalHealthReform #MHFA #1in1m #CauseConnected #healthcare