In Black History Month, we celebrate and recognise the contribution and achievements of people of African or Caribbean heritage, as well as reflect on the impact of racism and negative stereotypes.
We asked our Orri team members what Black History Month means to them, and what changes they would like to see in the way we treat and understand eating disorders in the UK.

The impact of stereotypes

When we think about the stereotypical presentation of an eating disorder, most of us will be holding in mind an image of a thin, young, white, middle-class female. This stereotype is driven by the media and severely impacts the process of screening and identification, which further reinforces the stereotype due to the types of individuals being more likely to seek support and gain access to treatment.

Those who do not fit the stereotypical representation of an eating disorder may be less likely to perceive a need for treatment, with a study highlighting that ethnic minorities are significantly less likely to seek help from binge eating disorder (Coffino, Udo and Grilo, 2019).
Becker et al., 2003 also demonstrates that people of colour with self-reported eating and weight concerns are significantly less likely to be asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms.

It’s also important to consider the impact of stereotypes on research. A large majority of eating disorder research is based on samples identified via those accessing treatment. This means there is a risk and likelihood of the black experience being excluded from research itself. Much research also fails to breakdown experiences between different ethnicities and the statistics of the ethnic make-up of the samples is often excluded.

Eating disorders within the black community

When looking at self-reported bulimic tendencies and symptoms, a 2011 study based in the US, suggested black girls were significantly more likely to engage in behaviours. However, when it came to the point of diagnosis this was more likely to match the eating disorder stereotype with white individuals being more likely to be diagnosed (Goeree, Ham and Iorio, 2011).

Taylor et al., 2007 suggests that African Americans are less likely to be diagnosed by anorexia nervosa, however, onset may be earlier and persistence longer.

We know that hospital admissions for eating disorders have risen dramatically in the last few years, however, this has been far more significant amongst ethnic minorities. According to NHS data, hospital admissions for eating disorders rose by 30% in white ethnicities, 216% in Black Africans and 53% in ethnic minorities as a whole from 2017-2020 (Thomas, 2020). In some aspect, this may indicate a level of improvement in recognition, however, we should also consider whether it is taking a significant decline in function to the point of needing a hospital admission for recognition to occur.

We asked our team, what does Black History Month mean to you?

Beth, Orri’s Specialist Eating Disorder Dietitian, says:

“I identify as a mixed-race female of Black Caribbean and white British heritage. For me, Black History Month is about both a celebration of black culture and history and a gateway to educate and highlight the achievements and contributions of black individuals in the community. I think importantly, it’s also about holding what it means to be a black person in the UK today and the action needed from allies to challenge systemic racism and how this shows up in society, including exploring how this looks to the historical legacy of colonialism and slavery.”

Roger, Family & Systemic Psychotherapist, says:

“I identify as a black male of Caribbean heritage who is part of the world community. I value diversity and equality and constantly work to address my own prejudice and that of others. 

When we talk about celebrating black history month, we have to think about what we want to celebrate. We also have to be mindful of whose lens we see black history through as the narratives will be different depending whose lens, we view history through.  

To me black history means giving a voice to the voiceless and telling the stories of those who are seen and not seen. Black history month means celebrating the greatness and diversity of this wonderful world we live in. Ensuring that we give an equal platform to that diversity and stepping away from the negative narratives (negative stereotypes) that have been used to subjugate a group of people or position them as less than.”

Romy, Senior Psychotherapist & Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lead, says:

“As a white passing woman of Lebanese heritage, an anti-oppressive psychotherapist and anti-racist ally, I endeavour to stand and act in my allyship every month of the year and pay homage to black history throughout the year, including the month of October.”

Karen, Orri’s Consultant Family Therapist, says:

“I am Black British and of Jamaican ancestry, and African descent. Personally, for me, every month is Black History Month! In that, opportunities for a time of private and public celebration.”

Antalia, Senior Marketing Executive and member of Orri’s DEI Committee, says:

“I am a white British female, with mixed heritage of English and South African. I strive to continue to listen and to learn from conversations that surround Black History Month, and to honour experiences that are different from my own. I strive to be an ally and to support as best I can.”

Fabian, Senior Marketing Executive, says:

“I am a Black-British man of Guyanese heritage. Black History Month. The time for everyone to share the history of the black people and celebrate the developments of the black community as well as the successes of black individuals in all walks of life. As a black man, this is what I was always taught this month was about and I loved it growing up. As I grew older though, my views on the month began to change. Walk with me for a while and let me explain.

When I was young, my family did their absolute best to protect me from some of the harsher realities of the world. This allowed me to see the world based on the beauty and kindness that had been filtered and placed in my vision. This was a team effort by my parents, family friends, my church, and even some of my teachers and I am eternally grateful to each of them for giving me that gift. However even then, they made the wise decision to let me see certain parts of the world for what it truly is. Discrimination against black people in loud and violent forms never scared me much, perhaps because I hadn’t experienced it in a way that would leave a scar. What left a real impression were the quiet and subtle forms of racism. Those I experienced every day and didn’t truly realise what they were until returning to those moments in retrospect. Some I still experience to this day.

Discrimination goes deeper than some may realise. For example, I have heard a vast number of stories of black people not receiving the medical support they need on suspicion of “faking it”. If you’d like to learn more about this, simply search ‘racial bias in hospital care’ and you will find countless examples of this very problem. I’ve witnessed people being told they’re “over-reacting” or receiving an incorrect diagnosis when they approach their GPs or doctors with eating disorder concerns. This leads to distrust between black people and healthcare professionals because if you’re gaslighted into believing your feelings are invalid, you may start to believe it and ignore something as serious as an eating disorder.

Problems like this have soured my view on Black History Month because the same people that discriminate against us for our, skin will pretend to care about our history, or post a quote from Nelson Mandela and incorrectly attribute it to MLK Junior or change their social media profile picture to that Obama ‘Change’ portrait. With this being our reality, how could I truly support a month that functions as a form of pageantry? That being said, it wouldn’t be fair for me to say that without acknowledging the people that simply want to use the month to learn about history that is otherwise harder to find. If you’re not sure what I mean, let me give you an example. In school, what were you taught about regarding black people? I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was mostly about slavery or artefacts that were stolen from an African country, right? Why do you think that is? Also, why is slavery taught as ‘black history’ as if it was the beginning? Why is slavery only discussed as black history and not white history? If you’re one of the few that were taught more about African history, you might be surprised to learn that apart from ancient Egypt, a lot of that isn’t well-known.”

What is the change you would like to see in the field of eating disorders in the UK?

Beth, Orri’s Specialist Eating Disorder Dietitian, says:

What I would like to see more of in the field of eating disorders in the UK, is a collective and active challenge around the eating disorder stereotype and the idea that eating disorders only effect white individuals. Further to this, I would like to see more research into the impact of racism on mental health and disordered eating, as well as, qualitative research looking at the experience of being a black individual with an eating disorder within the UK mental health system.”

Roger, Family & Systemic Psychotherapist, says:

“How does this relate to eating disorders? Narratives are significant indicators of behaviours, so for non-white clients with eating disorders if they do not feel that they will be treated with parity because individuals or institutions may be prejudice against them, this may make them more likely for them not to seek support for their mental health difficulties/eating disorder. For professionals working with non-white clients if we hold prejudice views whether conscious or unconscious, these views influence our behaviours and actions, we may be creating white Eurocentric institutions for clients with eating disorders without considering how we create environments that are diverse in their make up.  

I would like to see a safe space created for how we have conversations about race, a space where we can all engage in the conversation to move things forward for ourselves and our clients in how we begin to value diversity, this may allow for us to further understand how we engage with non-white communities to allow them to come forward and seek treatment for eating disorders. More research is needed with these communities so we can understand the barriers that prevent them from seeking help.”

Romy, Senior Psychotherapist & Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lead, says:

“Committed to anti-oppression, I act daily in an effort to bridge the gap that exists within the field of mental health as an activist in my personal life, as Head of DEI at Orri and in my private practice in the way I endeavour to strive towards equity within therapeutic spaces. I think of the invisibility of some people’s stories – how this is the result of the oppressive impact of slavery, colonisation, racism, discrimination – and at times,  solely Westernised lens of viewing mental health support and care for eating disorders. I  endeavour to bridge the gap in challenging the Eurocentric viewpoint of mental health systems. Until all people feel held, seen, welcomed within the eating disorder field which includes a commitment towards recognising the historical legacies of oppression and how they have infiltrated the field of mental health at large –  then our work is not done.”

Karen, Orri’s Consultant Family Therapist, says:

“The expeditious process to diagnosis and equity in access to treatment.”

Antalia, Senior Marketing Executive and member of Orri’s DEI Committee, says:

“The stereotypical narrative of eating disorders only affecting ‘white females’ is still very rife, as latest research in the UK demonstrates. This does not capture the reality of individuals with eating disorders, as there are who many suffer with the shame and stigma that eating disorders can bring. Perhaps, if there was more education surrounding eating disorders and availability for support, then more individuals will receive the treatment and intervention they wholly deserve.  

With the impactful work and communications at Orri, I would like to contribute to the challenging and the change that needs to take place in the eating disorders sector. For, eating disorders do not discriminate and can affect anybody, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or age. Recovery is for all and we should all have a chance at living a healthy and fulfilled life, away from any mental illness, such as an eating disorder.”

Fabian, Senior Marketing Executive, says:

“A change I would love to see in the field of eating disorders and healthcare as a whole is better training surrounding the treatment of black people. We should want everyone to receive proper treatment based on the fact that they are a living human being, not because they happen to be appealing to a prejudiced person. We are all kin, act like it.

people in the black community raising hands

Do you have any questions? Get in touch with us!