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Dear Google, It's Time for You to Be an Eating Disorder Ally

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Dear Google,

We have to treat eating disorders seriously and you need to help.

For the past five years, people who search for “suicide” or how to die by suicide will get the same results — it will lead them to a results page with a box that contains a helpline depending on the country they are in.

But when searching for eating disorders, there are unfiltered results on how to develop them, step by step.

When this fact came to my attention, I wrote about it in Portuguese and tried to contact Google Brazil, but I believe this wasn’t a priority in the moment.

Since then, some things have changed.

Now, while using Google USA or Google Brazil, typing “anorexia” or “bulimia” now shows a chart on the left side of the screen with information on these eating disorders. It is a great step, but it is related to being a disorder — a search for “tuberculosis” features the same, which shows there has been no new awareness on the implications of Google’s results on the development of eating disorders.

(On Google UK and Google Spain, for example, there is still nothing.)

Unlike other mental illnesses, guidelines on how to live with, maintain and even die from anorexia are really common on the internet.

Some eating disorder “tip” blogs are very popular online. I remember entering some of those when I was around nine and I see nothing has changed after looking for them more than 10 years later. It’s heartbreaking to see.

Just to make sure you get my point: blogs that haven’t been updated for years are still featured on Google results’ first pages —blogs that teach about developing an eating disorder. These pages have a responsibility to the many people who find them and may develop eating disorder symptoms.

If this wasn’t enough, these pages also teach the mentality that generates and sustains these disorders.

Another reason for the new Google chart not being enough is that it only shows up on searches for the isolated terms (for example, “anorexia” or “bulimia”), but there are plenty of other searches that give different tips.

Different social networks have been dealing with this theme for a whileTumblr, Instagram, Pinterest… and each of them has found their particular way to help or at least not to encourage the development of eating disorders in their users.

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness and yet eating disorder awareness is left out. There’s not a formula to make it right and there is a lot of work to be done, but each step is importantand this one is indispensable.

Google, let’s talk?

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Ingram Publishing.

Originally published: September 11, 2017
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