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In the treatment of children and teens with eating disorders, it is very common for co-occurring psychiatric disorders to require treatment as well. In fact, up to 98 percent of people with anorexia nervosa and 97 percent of people with bulimia nervosa show signs of mood, personality or substance abuse disorders, which can complicate the eating disorder and psychiatric treatment process.

With this complex presentation of disorders, it is important to acquire care for your child from skilled mental health experts at an eating disorder and psychiatric treatment center. Through their comprehensive treatment programs, these experts can help your child become fully recovered from their eating disorder and manage all co-occurring mental health conditions.

To get started in acquiring care for your child, utilize this guide to learn about co-occurring eating disorders and psychiatric disorders in teens and adolescents, and how eating disorder and psychiatric treatment centers can help your child become fully recovered.

Understanding How Co-Occurring Disorders Impact Eating Disorder Treatment

When children and teens have psychiatric conditions, their mental health symptoms can exacerbate symptoms caused by their eating disorders and vice versa. The disordered thoughts and behaviors from both conditions build upon one another, causing your child’s mental and physical health to potentially worsen over time. Anxious thoughts and obsessive-compulsive behaviors often worsen as a result of the disordered thoughts and behaviors that come with eating disorders.

Eating disorders can exacerbate mental health conditions, especially as health complications from maintaining a low calorie and nutrient deficient diet develop. Teens and adolescents have a high risk of developing depression, low self-esteem and body dysmorphia.

Psychiatric disorders may mask the signs of eating disorders, even from the patient themselves. Personality, mood and substance abuse disorders can keep teens and adolescents from seeing and accepting they need help in becoming recovered. At this point, skilled experts at residential or inpatient psychiatric care and eating disorder treatment centers may be needed to help your child begin on the path to recovery.

Psychiatric Disorders That Can Occur with Eating Disorders

In adolescents and teenagers, nearly any psychiatric disorder can occur with any type of eating disorder. Here are a few of the most common conditions treated by fully recovered staff at residential or inpatient psychiatric care centers.


Anxiety in adolescents and teens tends to present as feelings of agitation, restlessness and fear of new situations. Your child may have uncontrollable thoughts or images clouding their mind and causing their worries to flare. They may show a marked withdrawal from social interactions and even avoid their normal activities. The feelings of control that come with the completion of eating disorder behaviors can soothe anxiety at first, causing these conditions to reinforce one another. In a short time, the disordered thoughts and behaviors can lead to increased symptoms of anxiety and chronically high stress levels.


Depression comes with feelings of sadness and hopelessness that can impede everyday activities your child normally enjoys. Your child may have trouble concentrating, sitting still or getting motivated to do anything, even fun activities. You may notice that your child has trouble sleeping or cannot seem to get out of bed. Teens and adolescents with depression tend to overreact to minor negative events, which serves to reinforce their disordered thoughts. Depression can affect eating habits and self-esteem, making it a complicating factor in treating eating disorders. This condition can also develop in response to the disordered thoughts and actions caused by eating disorders.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

With obsessive-compulsive disorder, teens and adolescents tend to have a flurry of distressful thoughts or images that lead to compulsive behaviors. These intrusive thoughts can come on out of the blue and cause stress levels to skyrocket. Your child may feel a compulsive need to complete an action or series of actions to halt the obsessive thoughts. These actions only work temporarily and tend to reinforce the resulting disordered thought and behavior patterns. Many habits caused by eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders look similar, making it difficult to differentiate between the two conditions.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is a complex condition that causes mood swings and behavioral problems, especially in reference to personal relationships. If your child has this condition, they may have difficulties in managing their anxiety, depression and anger. The intense mood swings can lead to impulsive actions that cause depressive episodes as a result. This cycle can seriously exacerbate eating disorder symptoms, causing an overall decline in your child’s health. Borderline personality disorder may also come with severe body image issues that complicate the process of becoming recovered from eating disorders.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

After experiencing or witnessing a traumatizing event, it is possible to develop post-traumatic stress disorder. This condition can cause flashbacks and nightmares surrounding the event. Your child may also show severe signs of anxiety in the face of triggers associated with the event. Like post-traumatic stress disorder, the development of eating disorders can also be triggered by trauma. When left unresolved, this symptomology can worsen in tandem, causing serious mental and physical health repercussions.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Teenagers may experiment with drugs and alcohol without knowing the true risks. Continued use can lead to addiction, which may show up as a sudden decline in academic performance, secretive behaviors, bloodshot eyes and new social situations. Early use of drugs and alcohol is particularly dangerous as it overloads the reward centers of the brain. When activated, these reward centers block unpleasant thoughts and feelings, potentially causing a serious addiction to develop. Disordered behaviors caused by eating disorders also trigger and overload these reward centers, compounding the damage to these neurotransmitters.

With psychiatric conditions and eating disorders sharing many of the same symptoms and causes, it can be difficult to differentiate between the co-occurring conditions. Your child will need to undergo a thorough intake assessment to identify the eating disorders and psychiatric conditions affecting their health. The psychiatric treatment provider will provide guidance and support through this process to help your child acquire treatment and become recovered.

Where to Acquire Psychiatric Care and Eating Disorder Treatment for Your Child

To help your child become fully recovered, you must seek care from professionals at eating disorder and psychiatric care centers. The inpatient psychiatric care process can assist in identifying the conditions affecting your child and finding the most effective treatment plan for each. Trusted treatment centers utilize a fully-integrated approach to the care of your child to facilitate a renewed mind-body connection.

For a stress-free transition between home and the treatment center, and back again after completing treatment, look for a residential treatment center with a full team of medical, psychiatric and nursing professionals involved in the care of each patient. Effective treatment centers show a long track record of success in helping their patients and may even employ fully-recovered team members.

You will need to look at the options inside and outside of your local area to find the best eating disorder or psychiatric treatment center for your child’s needs. You can call each location and speak to an intake specialist to find out more about the program specifics and their approach to the treatment process.

How Eating Disorder and Psychiatric Treatment Centers Can Help

Treatment centers can help your child by identifying the exact eating disorders and psychiatric conditions affecting their wellbeing. Through the completion of the diagnostic process, your child’s treatment team receives actionable information they can use to create a treatment plan. This plan centers around healing disordered thoughts and behaviors linked to eating disorders and psychiatric conditions alike.

While admitted for residential or inpatient psychiatric care, your child receives care from skilled doctors, nurses and mental health professionals every step of the way. Throughout this process, your child will have an opportunity to utilize the level system to move through the treatment process with purpose. At the entry level, the treatment team will complete key assessments to guide their treatment plan and create a baseline for future reference. Your child will have a chance to adjust to the daily routines and requirements of the treatment program at this level.

Subsequent treatment levels require more of your child as they work on challenging and replacing their disordered thoughts and behaviors with healthier alternatives. With monitored exposures, they will work on creating and following meal plans and movement plans with a focus on moderation and stability. Throughout this process, the treatment team will assess engagement with the program and moves toward healthier thought patterns and behaviors to gauge your child’s progress.

Talking to Your Child About Treatment for Eating Disorders and Psychiatric Conditions

The early identification and treatment of eating disorders and psychiatric conditions is paramount in helping teens and adolescents become and remain recovered. You can help your child by opening up the dialogue about the risks of these conditions as soon as developmentally appropriate. Each child is different, so there is no set age to begin this conversation. Even young children can develop eating disorders, however, so you will need to watch for the signs to know when to best broach the subject. You will also need to use your knowledge about your child’s emotional development and mental health to make this important decision.

When you deem it appropriate, children tend to respond best to talks that consist of brief statements regarding mental health and eating disorder symptoms and the benefits of treatment. Keep these statements light and informative without the placement of any blame or judgment. Answer any questions your child has as fully as you can for their age and development level. Offer a listening ear and your support to help alleviate any concerns your child might have.

You may be faced with considerable denial or avoidance of the subject as your child grapples with their fears and insecurities. Teens and adolescents need time to process their thoughts on the manner and learn you will help them face the challenges ahead. Continue to discuss the benefits of treatment and the risks of going without care to help ease their transition in residential eating disorder and psychiatric care.

If you need help talking with your child about eating disorder and psychiatric treatment, you can partner with the staff at your trusted Clementine treatment centers. At your inpatient psychiatric care centers, your child will receive comprehensive care in a homelike setting from our skilled staff comprised of fully-recovered individuals. To get started, you can call 855-900-2221 to speak to our admissions specialists and receive the information you need to acquire care for your child.

Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.