Our co-founder, Megan Kwok, was able to have the chance to speak to Ms. Monique Santoso, the Program Coordinator at Harvard STRIPED for an interview series on ED Awareness Week and ED Policy Advocacy.
Megan: Why is eating disorder awareness so important?
Monique: Eating disorder awareness is just so vital because it's the one way that we can ensure proper support for those struggling with an eating disorder and have the potential to recover and allow themselves to be able to talk openly about their experiences without judgment and stigma. By being more aware about eating disorders, it means that more people can access the help when they need it. And while we're continuously increasing acceptance and understanding of the issue in itself, it really helps with providing more resources and support for those who are affected.
Megan: Yeah, I think that's the whole idea about talking about eating disorder awareness and why we're doing what we're doing here at STRIPED, because it really is important to just get the word out there.
Megan: How are you involved with the work of Striped, and why did you first get involved with Striped?
Monique: In Striped, I'm currently working as a program coordinator and in this role I am coordinating the Striped Youth Corps, a policy translation initiative led by youth from all over the world to promote eating disorders policy through prevention. What we do is we meet weekly and then I try to coordinate those meetings.
In addition to that policy translation work, I also manage and lead a few projects on how strategic storytelling can challenge skin shade discrimination in medical settings, the association between discrimination, stigma and financial precarity with eating disorders in Asian and Pacific Islander youth, and the regulations that need to be in place for dangerous weight loss supplements.
I first got involved with Striped a year and a half ago. I was really passionate about eating disorders awareness and prevention all through my college years because of my own personal experiences. And I think Striped gave me the hands-on tools and opportunities to actually do something about it.
Megan: What is something the public doesn't know about eating disorders that you think they should know?
Monique: One of the things that is most important is just how eating disorders really have the highest risk of death of any mental illness. And despite any popular media message that you might see or stereotypes, eating disorders really do affect all genders and races and every ethnic group.
Megan: That kind of ties into the next question, which is: summarize how dire the current Ed landscape is.
Monique: I think the most helpful statistic is that 10,200 people die almost every year as a direct result of an eating disorder. That's one death in almost every hour. So I think that's a little jarring when we think about it and just emphasizes the important work that you're doing, Megan, on raising awareness for eating disorders.
Megan: Last question- we're going through this really quickly- How can people support STRIPED as well as other efforts in ED awareness?
Monique: In terms of how people can support Striped in general, I think the best ways to get yourself involved in policy translation efforts, if you're a youth or if you're older, getting involved with Striped and other local community organizations that promote youth mental health and body image as well as eating disorder prevention. I think that will really help not just the community that you have around you, but also promotes Dr Austin's mission of promoting health equity as well as eating disorders prevention.
Other efforts to promote Ed awareness might be to educate yourself, I think, by reading articles and talking about these with your peers.
I think, Megan, one of the wonderful things that you do is just being able to talk about this with your own folks in the UK and then having these conversations really help reduce stigma and sparing awareness. I think people who open up conversations about this issue make all the difference in the world. When healthy, able-bodied people are able to say and draw attention to this issue, it makes people who like, I guess, like myself many years ago, it makes it more bearable for these people and also might even have a bigger emphasis on prevention and less on treatment.
And I think that's definitely the population health goals to promote eating disorder prevention so that you don't have to seek treatment, increasing treatment capacities, treatment levels these days, and decreasing capacity.