Top tips for siblings of someone with an eating disorder
When one of your siblings becomes unwell with an eating disorder it can be a very worrying and confusing time. You may find that you are experiencing lots of different feelings all at once, but remember that you are not alone!
It is normal for your feelings to differ from day to day and to experience lots of different thoughts and emotions. Remember that you may also have your own difficulties or worries and that it is OK for you to find the situation hard.
Below are some common feelings reported by siblings;
- Sadness – You may feel sad seeing your brother or sister upset or your family in distress. You may also feel sad that your relationship with your sibling may have changed and you may miss how your relationship used to be.
- Anger – You may feel angry at your brother or sister for the way they are behaving and how it is affecting family life.
- Ignored – You may feel ignored as people will often pay lots of attention on your sibling without asking how you are feeling. This could make you to feel angry at your sibling for taking up lots of your parent’s attention.
- Confused – You may be confused as to why this is happening to your brother or sister and worried about what might happen in the future. You may be worried that it was something you said or did that caused your sibling to become unwell. This is not the case!
- Helpless – You may be feeling helpless and unsure as to how to support your sibling.
- Under pressure – You may feel under pressure to behave well all of the time so as not to cause your family further distress. You may also avoid talking to your parents or sibling about your own feelings or difficulties so as not to burden them further.
- Embarrassment – You may feel embarrassed that your brother/sister has an eating disorder, particularly if it has been talked about at school.
- Withdrawn – You may feel like withdrawing from the situation and focusing on your own life.
- Educate yourself. There are some great websites with lots of information to help you to understand eating disorders better and make sense of what is happening to your sibling. On this website we have a page looking at typical myths around eating disorders which you may find it helpful to take a look at. The BEAT website also contains lots of useful information and support for people affected by eating disorders.
- Remember your sibling has parents and professionals who will be taking care of them and guiding them. What they will need most from you is to be their brother or sister and be there to listen; you do not need to know the ‘answers’, just being there is important.
- You may notice that your sibling has changed and that you aren’t spending as much quality time together. Your sibling may seem more withdrawn or short tempered, this may be because they are feeling upset and confused themselves. Despite this, try to continue to do activities you did together before, even if they don’t take you up on the offer, it will show that you care. However, make sure you don’t hold yourself responsible for getting your sibling to participate in anything you suggest. You are doing the best you can.
- Be honest about how you are feeling. Eating disorders often affect the whole family; it can be useful to have some time alone with your parents to talk about how you are coping. If you find it difficult to talk about your feelings, some people find writing a letter, text message or an email can helpful.
- Your sibling may attend appointments with your parents at hospital and clinics, for example CAMHS. You may be invited to attend these appointments; this can be a good opportunity to learn more about what your sibling is going through and share you own perspective. Some young people prefer to detach themselves from the situation and focus on getting on with their own lives – this is OK too!
- Sometimes people with an eating disorder may need to spend time having more intensive treatment in hospital. Depending on what your sibling wants, how you feel and what the hospital allows, you may want to visit them whilst in hospital. If this isn’t possible, you can always write to them or call/text to let them know you are still there to support them.
- Your sibling might find it easier to talk to you than to adults, however they may tell you something that makes you worried about them. If this is the case, encourage them to talk to an adult or let them know that you are worried and need to pass this information on. This may be difficult at the time but is important in making sure your brother or sister gets the support and help that they need so that they are safe.
- Make sure you have someone you can talk to, this may include a friend or an adult you trust such as a teacher. You may also find talking to a professional such as a counsellor, support worker or psychologist about what you may be feeling or experiencing helpful. You can find out about local support by talking to your GP, school or parents.
- Take care of yourself. Enjoy doing normal activities outside of your home to allow yourself time to ‘recharge’.
- Remain hopeful – the majority of young people with an eating disorder make a full recovery.
Remember: You’re already doing a great job by finding out how to support your brother or sister, it shows that you care! The most important thing is to be there for them and remind them that you care about them.
If you need more help and support you can access support by visiting BEAT or telephoning the BEAT youth helpline on 0345 634 7650.
Last updated: 7 June, 2018