EMILY Haleâs family thought she was just a normal teenager who was âmaybe overdoing it with the partying.â
âIâd stopped drinking any alcohol,â says Emily. âI wasnât spending enough time at home for them to be able to see what was happening.â
Her mental and physical health hit rock bottom and she was eventually sectioned to a specialist hospital for her own protection.
Yet today, successful treatment has allowed Emily to regain control of her health.
She has even taken a job with the same hospital chain where she was most recently treated, using her experience to help others.
Emily, now 23, from West Malling, Kent, says: âI can show patients hope.
“Because once I was a patient too, in and out of hospital, like them.
âNow Iâm back living a normal life, and donât have to worry about when I might next be admitted.
âThings turned around for me – they can turn around for others, too.â
She was just 18 when she was first diagnosed with the eating disorder anorexia.
Emily says: âMy problems started when I was at school studying for A levels.
âAt that time, while working hard on my school work, I also had an evening and weekend job as a waitress.
âUnhappy with the way I looked, I started reading up on diet and exercise and began losing weight.
âBut as the pounds dropped off me, in my own head, I could never lose enough.
âIâve always been petite – just 5ft 1ins tall, but my obsession with what I thought was healthy eating and exercise, led me to become unhealthily thin.â
She became obsessed with monitoring what she ate and overexercising.
âMy friends did know what was happening. Some certainly tried to talk to me, but I wasnât ready to open up to anyone at that time, so it became the elephant in the room.â
After gaining three A levels, Emily was planning a gap year in Thailand, and needed some jabs from her GP surgery for the trip.
She says: âThings had been getting worse and worse for me, and in the moment I just decided to tell somebody.
âLeaving the surgery, I turned to the nurse whoâd just given me my jabs, and said: âI think I need helpâ.
âI saw a GP the next day. She referred me to an eating disorder service.
âTwo days later, I was admitted to hospital as an inpatient. It was a relief to finally admit something was wrong.
âIn the end, I never did go on the travels I planned – I was in hospital getting treatment instead.â
Emily was treated at an NHS hospital for nine weeks.
The following year she was well enough to begin studying for a university degree in psychology.
However, in her third year of uni, she began relapsing.
She recalls: âI still had a part time job in hospitality for the first two years of uni, then in my third and final year, I was working full time, while also studying.
âIt was a lot to ask of myself. Eventually it became too much.â
Her symptoms returned.
âFor me, it was partly about weight control, partly about a relentless desire to exercise that I just couldnât escape.
âIt soon took a physical toll. My hair was thin, my skin dry.
“After a shower Iâd have to sit down on my bedroom floor because the heat made me faint.
âAnd mentally, of course, my mind was no longer all there. I quit going to lectures.
âPeople at work stopped asking me to do tasks, because I was so forgetful.
âBeing in the grip of anorexia was really isolating, taking up every minute of every day.
âIt took me away from family, friendships and spending time with others, because I was so preoccupied.â
Aged 22, in September 2021, she was admitted back into the same hospital, initially as a voluntary patient, but was then sectioned.
She spent four months in a hospital in the Cygnet Health Care chain, having treatment and therapy, with support from a community psychotherapist.
âThat therapist was amazing. She helped me shift my focus.
âAs I started feeling better, I knew I wanted to give something back and help others.â
While still an inpatient, she applied for a job with the same hospital company who were treating her.
She said: âI saw a job advertised for an occupational therapy assistant at another hospital in the Cygnet chain, and instinctively knew it would be a good fit for me.
âI was actually still an inpatient when I had the job interview, and was thrilled when I heard that I’d been successful.â
In September 2022, Emily started work as an occupational therapy assistant on a male psychiatric intensive care unit at Cygnet Health Care, Maidstone, Kent.
She helps patients get involved with therapies like arts and crafts, table tennis and gentle walks.
As service users regain a sense of control and order in their lives, they can move to a less restrictive care setting before ultimately returning home.
Emily says: âMy job is challenging but I love it. Itâs great when you witness first-hand the positive changes and the difference that treatment can make.
“Guys come in so unwell and within a couple of months they are able to have a normal conversation again.
âSeeing them get better and able to interact with others is really rewarding.
âIt’s important to give patients hope for the future, and help them realise that things can and do get better.
âI know from my own experience that when you are first admitted into a hospital for an eating disorder or other mental health problem, you feel like your world has turned upside down.
“But however stuck you feel, itâs important to realise that it’s only a moment in time â it is not forever.
“I may always have anorexia in my life, but now it no longer controls me – itâs just background noise.
âI want to show other anorexia patients that life doesnât have to be a cycle of your mental health getting better, then worse again. Thereâs so much more to live for.â
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