Most people have probably never heard of Pica, so I guess it is understandable why they might not understand it right off the bat. No one completely understands it, not doctors or patients, not families or caregivers. It’s natural to be confused about why someone would crave and eat things that aren’t edible, but that doesn’t mean that people who do so deserve to be called strange, ridiculed, mocked, etc.
This past week, there was a story on the news about a woman who has cravings for and eats cornstarch, among other things. She doesn’t know exactly why she has Pica. She knows it started after she got pregnant, but that it continued after that. The reporter called her behavior strange. The therapist that was interviewed called her behavior strange. The ad that ran the whole week before the story aired called it strange. And now, on that station’s Facebook page, there are complete strangers making the same types of comments. I’m not surprised that there were insensitive commenters, especially in this area. (In case you didn’t know, I’m pretty sure that Southern Hospitality is a myth.) I think what I found most appalling was the lack of sensitivity from the therapist and the reporter.
There are plenty of very nice mental and physical health care providers that they could have talked to about Pica–including my hematologist. There are plenty of ways that the story could have been presented that were informative and didn’t manage to turn the interview into a freak show. I don’t see why they felt the need to go this way with the story, to make the woman look like there was something “wrong” with her. Yeah, she’s doing something unhealthy and she needs help, which she admits, but that doesn’t mean that you talk about her like she isn’t a person who could be hurt by the tone of the story and the reaction that it got. If they had treated her like a person and not like a sideshow, then maybe the response wouldn’t have been so bad. Or maybe, when they saw on the Facebook page that it was getting some rude comments, they could have pointed out that people were being completely disrespectful. That would have been the civilized thing to do.
The reporter seemed to treat the woman like she was incompetent because of her cravings. If I were going to talk to a reporter about something as delicate as this particular condition, then I wouldn’t want to talk to her. Her attitude made me feel like she thought there was something despicable about acting upon cravings that Pica causes. The therapist just repeatedly talked about how those cravings were not normal. If were her patient, I wouldn’t want to tell that therapist that I ate non-food because it is obvious that she doesn’t think highly of anyone with the condition. And her emphasis that the condition has to be a result of mental illness was annoying.
While Pica happens with mental illnesses like Schizophrenia and Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, it also happens with various types of nutritional deficiencies (including anemia), autism spectrum disorders, diseases of the digestive tract (including Celiac), Kleine-Levin Syndrome, and pregnancy. There are even people who might be diagnosed with Pica that are just exhibiting culturally-appropriate behavior. Doctors don’t even know what triggers it for some people. Seeking help for Pica can be difficult for an adult because it’s embarrassing to tell another person that they’re eating things that they know that they shouldn’t be eating. And it’s difficult for the doctors to treat because, when it comes right down to it, Pica is a very individualistic thing. Depending on its cause, the treatment can range from therapy to infusions.
I knew before the story aired that there was a good likelihood that some level of fetishisation of it. That’s become quite the norm lately. (Just look at cable networks that have dozens of shows about various physical and mental health conditions.) Still, I didn’t really expect it to come off as disgusting as it did. I probably should have, but I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, the story might be respectful and might enlighten people about what goes on with Pica. I hoped that it might be encouraging to others who have had Pica, and could show them that they weren’t alone when it came to their cravings. I hoped they would go into the story with an acknowledgement of what different things cause the disorder and that it doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is “crazy” or “weird” or anything like that. But, of course, I was let down when I saw the very short news story. It made me wonder what the point was.
Did they do it because they thought it would boost ratings? Did it make them feel better to mock someone for something that is, as of right now, out of her control? Didn’t they realize how this could make other people with the condition feel like there was something bad about them?
I just wish it had been…something better.