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Opportunity or trigger?

How does the pervasiveness of pop culture impact our mental health?

A new Netflix feature, “To the Bone,” tells the story of a young woman with anorexia.

While Dr. Raudzus, medical director for the Provincial Eating Disorder Program at St. Paul’s Hospital, is a proponent of anything that sheds light on mental health and raising it up as a topic for conversation, she cautions being mindful assuming that this movie speaks for all eating disorders.

“This particular show is only one depiction of what an eating disorder might look like,” Dr. Raudzus says. “While there are many unknowns about mental health, one thing we know for sure is that a mental illness as complex as an eating disorder manifests differently for everyone, impacting across a spectrum of ages, genders, body types, ethnicities, upbringings.”

While the outcome for some may be a connection to the images and experiences shared in the media and in pop culture, others will feel silenced by it because it’s not their story or the images shown aren’t those that they connect to as part of their eating disorder.

“I really want to make clear that it’s a not a choice,” reminds Dr. Raudzus. “An eating disorder is a real illness, a severe illness with very significant physical and mental consequences and the risk of those consequences, including death, is extremely high.”

Knowing what to look for — physical, emotional changes, preoccupation with weight and shape — is important if you are concerned about a loved one, but it’s also important to know that eating disorders very rarely occur alone.

“We know that eating disorders often present with other illnesses, like anxiety or depression, so the key is just really being curious about whichever of these outcomes that someone might be seeing in a friend or loved one, and taking the opportunity to raise these observations and have a conversation,” says Dr. Raudzus.

So while we don’t necessarily know the impact that this film or others like it will have, we do know that it can lead to conversation, which serves to help reduce stigma and can be a springboard for finding out more.