TW: forceful treatments of eating disorders

Cultural profoundly influences the way we think and speak about everything, including mental health. Cultural perceptions of mental health influence everything from stigma to the types of treatments available. In combating mentalism and in working to provide services to those with psychological disorders, we have to acknowledge the importance of culture. After all, giving someone advice that is not culturally competent, can in fact put them in a dangerous situation.

Lately, I have been thinking about mental health in the context of Russian culture, specifically eating disorders. Eating disorders in Russian culture are largely misunderstood (like in most countries and cultures) but are also voyeuristically portrayed. For example, there are documentaries with interviews with recovered anoretics that focus on their behavior, rather than the underlying causes. That is, the documentaries or news pieces related to eating disorders like to describe what the person ate and did not, as well as their families reactions. They do not focus heavily on the mental health  aspect of the situation.

In terms of how eating disorder treatment is carried out in Russia,  it is often reduced to force. Individuals with eating disorders are often forcefully fed and restricted, in order to make sure they survive. Although this tends to ensure their basic survival (for at least a certain amount of time), it also traumatizing. Since eating disorders are often a coping technique in relation to control within one’s life, this sort of physical restriction can exacerbate the mental anguish of an individual with an eating disorder. However, plenty of immigrant Russians send their children, who have eating disorders, to Russia because they believe that this forceful treatment is the only treatment that will save the lives of their children.

Thus, in dealing with Russians, who have eating disorders, it is important to consider this aspect. If Russians families tend to perceive physical survival of their children or family members as most important, language regarding treatment needs to prioritize this, so as to assure the family the quality of the treatment. In other words, at times it is important to show progress to concerned family members through facts regarding physical health, in order to assure their furthered support of recovery. If mental health issues are discussed foremost, the family may feel that progress is not necessarily being met and look for alternate (and potentially harming) ways to deal with the situation.