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Instagram App Offering Mental Health Intervention

Instagram App Offering Mental Health Intervention

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Social media and online networking are such a relevant aspect of our world today. With entire enterprises rising from online marketing, and children carrying smartphones, technology continues to be integrated into all areas of life by leaps and bounds. So with social media being utilized for basically every purpose, from personal to business, it is no surprise that some forward thinkers continue to find ways to put these all-encompassing outlets to good use.

Though stunning selfies full of filters, scenes of nature with inspiring quotes, and aesthetically perfect pictures of food dominate the Instagram app, the social media site isn’t void of some damaging content. Instagram is still used as a platform for some questionable photos, like pro-anorexia and pro-self-harm posts.

To fight back Instagram is now launching a new tool that allows users to issues. But they don’t stop there. The Instagram app also steps in to offer intervention options.

Instagram App VS Eating Disorders

The Instagram app already actively takes a stand on promoting positive mental health in some areas. It tried in 2012 to put a stop to pro-eating disorder posts. Often hashtags like #thinspiration and #ana are attached to these posts, so to prevent these tags from attracting admiration, the Instagram app tried to make these tags unsearchable. They also disabled accounts and added content advisories.

Some hashtags are banned completely, such as:

  • #thinspo, short for the pro-anorexia phrase “thinspiration”
  • #proana, another pro-anorexia phrase

Still, other potentially problematic tags fall into a gray area and are still allowed. The Instagram app had to witness the issue head-on when researchers examined 2.5 million posts between 2011 and 2014, also analyzing 15 pro-eating disorder hashtags that were banned or moderated. What they found was truly disheartening. For each banned/moderated hashtag, there was an average of 40 spin-off hashtags.

For example:

  • #anorexia, as banned, there were 99 variations of the hashtag, such as- #anorexique or #anoexica
  • #thighgap had variations of #thygap and #thigh gap
  • #bulimia would be transformed into #bulimiah

According to the study, these variations even boasted more comments and more “likes” than the originals. So when the Instagram app tried to shut down the pro-eating disorder exploitation of their forum, users found loop-holes. Spin-off hashtags are also noted to exhibit a higher focus of self-harm related posts.

The Instagram app was trying to make a difference, but the fight evolved with their efforts. It is time to implement new strategies.

Instagram’s #Intervention

Now the Instagram app is putting some of the power to act in the hands of other users. Users can now anonymously flag posts about self-harm or other mental health issues, and Instagram will step in.

But Instagram isn’t militantly and automatically shutting down every post that gets flagged. Instead, the Instagram app is taking a compassionate and proactive approach. Once a picture is flagged, the user who put up the image will see a message offering help:

“Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.”

Then, the app will offer to connect them with a helpline, assistance in talking to a friend or getting tips. If Instagram app users search any of those questionable tags, they’ll also be directed to the same support page.


Instagram developed the new tool in dexterity by uniting with a variety of resources, including:

  • National Eating Disorders Association
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

They even reached out to real people who have struggled with eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal thoughts personally to come up with the most effective and compassionate message. Instagram COO Marne Levine said in a recent interview that,

“We listen to mental health experts when they tell us that outreach from a loved one can make a real difference for those who may be in distress. At the same time, we understand friends and family often want to offer support but don’t know how best to reach out,”

“These tools are designed to let you know that you are surrounded by a community that cares about you, at a moment when you might most need that reminder.”

In this writer’s opinion, this is an awesome innovation. This doesn’t attack the individual making the post, but instead offers support and displays concern in a positive light. Not to say there is anything wrong with banning hashtags or other methods of regulating social media. This just seems like it does not isolate the individual as much, and instead shows someone who may be suffering care and kindness. Instead of silencing a cry for help or sweeping it under the rug, it puts a solution on the table.

This kind of intervention by the Instagram app not only tries to protect those who may be susceptible to the negative impact of these images, it also promotes mental health solutions through positive outreach.

Well done Instagram.

Eating disorders and other mental health disorders are often co-occurring with addiction or substance abuse. Understanding dual diagnosis and providing holistic treatment can be very essential for effective and lasting recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling, please don’t wait. Call toll-free and find out how to get help.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Court Orders La Scala to Rehire Dancer Who Spoke of Anorexia

Court Orders La Scala to Rehire Dancer Who Spoke of Anorexia

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Shernide Delva

A case that made headlines for many years has finally come to a close. In 2012, Mariafrancesca Garritano, a ballet dancer, was sacked after accusing the La Scala ballet company of promoting eating disorders to young dancers. She even claimed that one in five ballerinas had anorexia, and admitted to her struggles with meeting their standards.

Garritano said 70% of dancers who were at La Scala’s dance school had eaten so little that their periods had stopped, a common anorexia side effect known as amenorrhea. She said she suffered recurring stomach pains and frequent bone fractures due to her extreme dieting. All of this was published in a tell-all booked which clearly enraged the company she was hired to work for.

After coming out with these claims, the ballerina was suspiciously fired from dancing for the La Scala company. The firing led to the court case stating that the dancer was fired illegally.  The case also spotlighted the intense pressure ballerinas have to stay thin in the industry.

Now 37, Garritano is ready to return to the stage. The school has been ordered to rehire the dancer after it was determined that the ballerina was fired unfairly.

“All I am waiting for is a call from La Scala,” Garritano said in an interview with Milan daily Il Giorno.

Garritano acknowledges that she has yet to receive contact from the company since the court victory. The case was first settled in 2014. However, La Scala appealed the decision. Now, the same court order remains. The school must rehire Garritano.

“Already in 2014, I expected to be rehired after two years of interruption. Now I expect the same thing,” said Garritano. “I never stopped working on my physical condition to be in the best condition possible when the moment came.”

The dancer was dismissed initially due to bringing the name of the company down by writing about it in her book.  In the book, she described her experience as a dancer, under the pressure and scrutiny of the public eye. In one incident, she mentions the instructors calling her names like “mozzarella” and “Chinese dumpling” in front of everyone.  At one point, Garritano’s weight dropped to 94 pounds due to her extreme dieting methods.

For decades, eating disorders and ballerina practically went hand in hand. Ballerinas are told they must look svelte and graceful on stage. However, this demand results in eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which one restricts their calories severely to the point of starvation. Bulimia is repeated binge eating and self-induced vomiting. Other eating disorders include orthorexia which is an obsessive focus on healthy eating.

Eating disorders are much more prevalent in a woman. This is because in industries like modeling, acting, dancing or singing, place a huge emphasis on having what is perceived to be a perfect body type.  Many models have also come out with stories about agents demanding they lose 10 to 20 pounds on an already thin figure to fit “exact” model measurements.

Garritano was merely exposing the struggles she faced working as a ballerina for the La Scala ballerina company. It would not be legal to fire her over publishing her book, unless it was determined that she was not telling the truth. In this case, it seems that the ruling seems just. What do you think? Should they have fired her?

Eating disorders are devastating illnesses to have to deal with alone. Often, in industries focused on looks, many find it hard to admit they have a problem. If this sounds like you, get help today. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

Spread Awareness: This Week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Spread Awareness: This Week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

“Her body
Layers upon layers of flesh
Her body
Lacking nourishment
Craving Rest

Her Body
As vast as an ocean
Her Mind
Too shallow to appreciate the depth”

Eating Disorders Awareness Week: February 21-27 2016

Above is an excerpt from a poem I wrote called “Her Body.” The poem really delves deep into the seriousness of eating disorders. Personally, I believe it is critical for people to understand and learn about the complexity of eating disorders. Eating disorders can cause great harm if left untreated.

That being said, in case you missed it, this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) Week. Throughout the week, NEDA and its supporters aim to bring awareness about the seriousness of eating disorders and increase access to treatment for those in need. Struggling with an eating disorder can be very daunting, and often those who have them are not even aware of the problem. Eating Disorders Awareness Week’s goal is to spread the message to both those who suffer and the loved ones around them.

This year’s theme for NEDA week is “3 Minutes can Save a Life: Get Screened. Get Help. Get Healthy.” The website offers a 3 minute survey that can help determine if you may have symptoms of an eating disorder. While the results are NOT an official diagnosis, it can help determine if you should seek professional help.

Eating disorders involve dark destructive behaviors in the effort to attain an ideal body image or seek control over one’s life. Eating disorders can cause depression and obsessive compulsive behavior. If left unaddressed, eating disorders can be incredibly damaging both psychologically and physically.

Types & Symptoms of Eating Disorders

From personal experience, I know how destructive eating disorders can be.  Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.

Here are just a few disturbing statistics regarding eating disorders:

General Eating Disorder Stats

  • Nearly 50% of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression.
  • Only 1 in 10 men and women with eating disorders receive treatment.
  • Up to 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • 25% of college-aged women admitted to bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.
  • 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die from complications related to their eating disorder.

As you can see, these statistics are startling. With the influences of the media, the desire to be a certain size and look a certain way is continuing to affect people in a negative way.

Before we delve any further, let’s quickly define some of the more commonly known eating disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa

  • Severely limiting calories, leading to low body weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight, obsession with the scale

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Eating large quantities of food, followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain such as throwing up, using laxatives of excessive exercise
  • Feeling out of control and desperate because of unrealistic body image goals

Binge Eating Disorder            

  • Eating large amounts of food, yet not engaging in behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • Strong shame or guilt regarding binge eating
  • Eating to the point of discomfort and eating when not hungry
  • Eating alone because of shame

Other Types of Eating Disorders

  • Orthorexia– extreme or excessive preoccupation with eating food believed to be healthy.
  • Purging disorder- purging without binge eating
  • Night eating syndrome- excessive nighttime food consumption

There are multitudes of eating disorders out there, some less commonly known, however the one thing they all have in common is that they interfere with a person’s well-being and relationship with food.  Fortunately, the media has taken steps to prevent the onset of eating disorders. Fashion models even have guidelines they must follow to maintain a healthy body weight.

Still, having an eating disorder can be very depressing for many and lead to self-harm. This week, take time out of your day to examine your eating patterns and self-worth. Do you struggle with disordered eating behaviors? Perhaps it’s time for you, or someone you know,  to get on the right path to self-love.

It is so important for people to learn and understand eating disorders so they are able to help someone who is struggling. It is even more important to know when you are struggling with something yourself and need to get help. Do not be afraid to admit that you have a problem. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

Anorexia Video Game is Far Too Tasteless

Anorexia Video Game is Far Too Tasteless

Author: Justin Mckibben

Eating disorders are no joke. While I am the first one to admit I enjoy a touch of dark comedy and satire once in a while, I still see a certain degree of consideration as a vital part of being a human being, and recently there has been a lot of uproar about the lack-thereof with a blatantly cold and crude video game entitled “Rescue the Anorexia Girl” that has offended so many people it has found itself removed from

Grotesque Gaming

The tasteless computer game “Rescue the Anorexia Girl” that was stirring up controversy from the moment it went on the market this year mocking anorexia sufferers was made by SmartTouch, but most people don’t see anything smart about this and has taken a stand against this tasteless display of discrimination and ridicule by pulling the game from its platform.

The games format is based off a well-known concept most commonly compared to a whack-a-mole game. But in this version instead of hitting a mole with a mallet, players are prompted to throw food at a female character. As if that was not enough to disgust the masses, the game developers added insult to injury by designing the game so that if the food doesn’t reach the female character, she continues to lose weight until she eventually starves to death… yea, because that’s not offensive, right?

In the introduction the designers note:

“Anorexia is a serious disease and fatal if not cured in time. When you have anorexia, the desire to lose weight becomes more important than anything else. For example, a girl from new Rescue the Anorexia Girl game has started to renounce meals and even tasty cakes cannot save the situation. But now you have come, brave hero and you can save her. We believe in you!”

If this game doesn’t scream ‘offensive’ to you, I’m not sure what will. There have been times that others have tried to make light of eating disorders, even those who have suffered themselves through mediums such as television series, but this game has pushed past the point of self-acknowledgement and raising awareness to abhorring indignity. The game is practically an extreme and aggressive form of “thinspiration” tactics that are so harmful while pretending to be helpful.

This Issue Isn’t Funny 

One of the many implications the format makes is feeding into the stigma that eating disorders like anorexia are only a female problem by making the only character in the game a woman. It may be true that women do make up the majority, but there are men who struggle just the same as they do, and it has actually become a silent epidemic in our culture that we seem to sweep under the rug and do push-ups over to mask insecurity with masculinity.

Next, they imply that this woman needs a ‘hero’ to come save her by force-feeding her?! As if the only treatment there is for anorexia is to make someone suffering from this serious disorder eat, regardless of how degrading the methods may be, and that you will be her ‘brave hero’. Maybe instead of a hero, she needs consideration and support through counseling and treatment. But nah, just pelt her with pastries and she’ll be OK, right? It implies that this is a choice, not what many describe as a brain based biological disorder.

And finally…. why would anyone think it was funny to show someone starve to death? Why is it that we would find it humorous to watch this woman kill herself by starvation, even if she is an image only dropping weight pixel by pixel, why would we want to belittle and simplify the devastation caused by anorexia? Death by anorexia is more than a character dwindling, and whether these developers know or not, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychological illness.

Gave Over

Not long at all after the game became available online the product review on Amazon was flooded with negative reviews and angry comments from both concerned individuals and organizations. Kelly Bradley noted that,

“You don’t throw air at someone with cystic fibrosis, so don’t throw food at someone with anorexia.”

A great number of people in recovery from anorexia and bulimia also expressed concern that the game simplified an eating disorder that is too frequently stereotyped but is actually far more complex, and this disgusting game only further stigmatized those who are suffering from this disorder.

Brian Cuban, author of Shattered Image is a man who struggled with an eating disorder for over 27 years, and on his blog he commented,

“The science of eating disorders is firm. They are biologically based and not a choice. Simply feeding ‘anorexia girl’ isn’t going to cure anything.”

Amazon has not publicly commented on their decision to pull the game, but it did so quickly following the complaints. Also Barnes & Noble has removed the game from their online marketplace as well, but the game is still available on the Android platform. Hopefully not for long, as may expect it to be removed in the coming weeks due to negative backlash.

Let me just conclude this by saying that as someone who prides themselves on having a pretty strange sense of humor, and as someone who can appreciate the irony of satire, I’m personally appalled by this product. This is a sick joke about very sick people that is not at all funny, especially considering one of the primary issues with this disease is based in perception and body-image. Less should be done to make people laugh at this, and more should be done to make people aware of it.

Many young people battle with a severe eating disorder, and too many of those young people lose their lives in that struggle. But there is recovery beyond an eating disorder, and a life of freedom that every individual deserves. If you or someone you love is

Do Diet Apps Inspire Eating Disorders?

Do Diet Apps Inspire Eating Disorders?

Author: Justin Mckibben

It seems with society moving toward staying in shape, fitness trackers are going mainstream, feeding the growing general concern with body image. It comes as no surprise that America’s obsession with smartphones only added to the popularity of fitness technology, but some recent developments have caused people to notice how harmful these apps can be to a select few. Do these kinds of apps actually promote eating disorders?

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says that up to 30 million people in the United States have an eating disorder at some point in their life, but considering only 1 in 10 receives proper treatment, is it fair to say they far too many have the potential to be negatively influenced in a world run on iPhones and Androids?

Health App

The Apple iOS 8 update introduced a new Health app designed to combine data from fitness apps like:

  • Runtastic
  • MyFitnessPal
  • Up
  • FitStar

And with new hardware like the Apple Watch to go with this new software, it is sure to get even more popular.

While some critics are more focused on the apps inability to impress with its functionality, Sarah Wanenchak went a step further by turning the focus to a more serious note in her writing in Cyborgology:

“The Health app is literally dangerous, specifically to people dealing with/in recovery from eating disorders and related obsessive-compulsive behaviors.”

She wrote that the app was poorly designed, an enabler of disordered eating behavior, and a temptation to fall back into self-destructive habits. The fact that the Health app was pre-loaded onto devices with the update and couldn’t be deleted only made the situation more vexing, especially for those who do struggle with some form of disordered eating. Michele Kabas is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in eating disorders who says she is troubled that users don’t have a choice about installing the Health app, calling it irresponsible.

Dr. Rene Zweig, therapist at Union Square Cognitive Therapy has said:

“Most people who have healthy relationships with food and their bodies use these fitness trackers and know what the limit is. Someone who has a more obsessive mindset or eating disordered mindset can easily get on that spiral of competing with themselves or other people.”

Almost all of Dr. Zweig’s patients use these kinds of fitness apps. Some in healthy ways, but many use the apps in relentlessly obsessive ways to negatively compare themselves to others and reinforce unhealthy habits.

The Appetite for Apps

The same numbers some people are able to use constructively can also be manipulated to provide inspiration for eating disorders. Or even worse those numbers can exacerbate them. These kinds of apps also allow people to trade and compare numbers with others, which can stimulate an eating disorder out of some sense of competitiveness, or drive unhealthy behaviors when someone negatively compares themselves to another person.

I have written about ‘thinspiration’ and pro-anorexia websites, blogs and chat forums. One of these discusses unhealthy dieting plans including consuming just 750 calories per day and walking a minimum of 14,000 steps, tracking it all with a Fitbit. On MyFitnessPal people with eating disorders even congratulate one another about under-eating or over-exercising to the point that other people using the service have complained.

But wait, there’s more! Those apps all use raw data, but still others are even more malicious and dangerous for those with eating disorders! Some are built around negative motivational tactics that shame the individual into trying to meet unhealthy goals. Some such as:

  • Carrot Fit
  • Nenshou
  • Shock therapy wearable Pavlok

Dr. Zweig says that apps that utilize cruel and negative reinforcement may actually appeal to people who already have disordered eating.

Redirecting the Issue

There is also some effort put forward by some apps to combat the severity or possibility of eating disorders. Some still don’t think that is enough, but it is a start.

MyFitnessPal is one app that offers a page titled “eating disorders resources” and has posted a blog from a licensed clinical social worker about overcoming binge eating. It will even warn users if they appear to not be consuming enough calories.

In similar fashion, social networks Pinterest and Tumblr have programmed their apps to direct users who search hashtags like #proana or #thinspiration to the National Eating Disorders Association. Still some say the apps could also use the available data to provide more contextualized feedback.

On the other end of the spectrum apps do exist to help users overcome their eating disorders. One such app is Recovery Record that allows users to enter their nutrition and fitness information. Users can also make posts about the urge to binge or purge to share with others for support.

Too frequently tech companies will ignore or misunderstand mental illnesses while building apps and services designed for a mass audience, but there is hope in future that people sharing their personal experiences with disordered eating and fitness apps will ultimately inspire designers and developers to think about not just a great undifferentiated mass of users, but also the people they unintentionally marginalize who may use these apps in harmful ways. Health and fitness is not a one-size-fits-all problem, so we need more diverse and specific solutions.

Mental health and eating disorders are another way that we can become addicted, whether to substances, people, compulsions or behaviors. But while the world is not the easiest place for those who struggle, it can be a beautiful place with the right recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135


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