Eating disorders are known as the deadliest form of psychiatric illness.

Amy Walters, ThinkStock

Just last month, an anorexic, bulimic New Jersey woman passed away at a psychiatric hospital in Parsippany three months after a court granted her request to reject force feedings.

Still, the general public tends to minimize or even glamorize these types of mental health issues, and that shouldn't be the case, New Jersey doctors say.

Dr. Melinda Parisi Cummings, program director for the Center for Eating Disorders Care at University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, has seen a number of eating disorder-related casualties in her 20 years in the field. The killer could be the physical damage caused by the disorder, or suicide.

"Eating disorders really affect just about every organ system in the body," Cummings said.

She said many patients with eating disorders also have co-occurring issues such as depression. The center treats children as young as 8 years old, and they see an increasing number of patients on a yearly basis, both male and female.

But for all the people she's seen perish from the illness, she's seen far more people fully recover.

"I can't emphasize enough the importance of early intervention, early diagnosis and treatment, in order to prevent it from becoming more chronic or entrenched," she said.

Patients of the Eating Disorders Program at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Somerset have ranged in age from 14 to 84.

The unit offers three levels of care: inpatient, partial hospitalization and an outpatient intensive program, according to clinical supervisor Lynn Corey.

"It's not just getting them medically stable, which is initially the most important, but then we have to find out how do they sustain recovery on the outside," Corey said. "What do we need to do to be able to help you deal with your life and the problems that you're having in a different way?"

For the most part, patients at programs like these voluntarily enter for care, even if some were urged by loved ones to get help.

The National Eating Disorders Association cites about 25 related support groups available to New Jersey residents. Corey and Parisi Cummings said inpatient, outpatient and partial hospitalization services are available throughout the state for those dealing with an eating disorder.

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