I truly believe that we have to learn to transform frustrating experiences into positive reflections and action. However, sometimes personal reflections are not enough to lead to change, and collective reflections are needed in order to produce transformation in the system. During the past months, the nation has been immersed in an immigration legislation process giving hope to the Latino population that something will change for the better. Meanwhile, other transformations are needed in the eating disorders field. For many years, we have had to struggle with the misconception that eating disorders just affect white females from the upper-middle class, which has contributed to the lack of awareness and services for those who suffer from eating disorders in the Latino population and other racial and ethnic minorities. Although small steps have been taken to decrease health disparities in the Latino population, much work remains to be done. When I moved from Puerto Rico to North Carolina in 2008, I was surprised by the lack of awareness about eating disorders among mental health providers who serve the Latino population.
During the past five years I have devoted my efforts to educating the Latino community in North Carolina about the importance of exploring and assessing eating disorders in Latinos, and although the effort has been successful, we are now facing the challenge of finding adequate services. The fact is that, with the exception of the PAS Project, which is a research study providing treatment for adult Latinas with eating disorders, there are no dedicated eating disorders services for adolescent or adult Latinos with eating disorders. Eating disorder clinics around the area do not have bilingual therapists and sliding scales are rarely provided for those with no health insurance with the exception of the UNC Psychology Clinic. On several occasions, I have struggled with the impact of raising awareness when adequate resources for treatment are not available. I especially struggle when I talk with Latina mothers who are desperately seeking the best services for their daughters and sons. During my formative years in graduate school, I was taught that I was ethically bound to provide the best care for everyone in need, regardless of their status, condition, race, or ethnic background. Our current healthcare system challenges us to live up to those principles. Latinas with eating disorders in the United States have to be bilingual and have health insurance in order to receive the best care for their condition. Is this a health disparity? From my point of view, it is and something that should be changed in order to guarantee the human and civil rights of everyone in need in the community.
Even more than awareness about eating disorders, we have to improve our current access to the healthcare system. So the question is what we can do about it in our roles as researchers, clinicians, family members, or as citizens of a community? We need more research that focuses on culturally sensitive treatment development for Latinos with eating disorders. PAS has initiated training in eating disorders to bilingual therapists who serve the Latino population, but more bilingual services are still needed. We also have to educate the Latino community about how to recognize eating disorder symptoms but furthermore, we have to educate them about how to advocate for the services that they need. The Worldwide Charter from the Academy for Eating Disorders has as its mission to increase eating disorders awareness and to stimulate legislation for equal access and better services for patients suffering from these conditions. Everybody deserves the best care, not because of their economic status, race or ethnic background, or language, but because they are human beings. This is my dream—equal access to services for eating disorders for all. I hope this is your dream too and the American dream.
By: Dr. Mae Lynn Reyes-Rodriguez