Anorexia is a form of mental illness. Learn how the disorder changes cognitive functioning and can be fatal.

Anorexia is a prevalent eating disorder. People who grapple with anorexia can experience changes in the way they feel, think and behave. Because of its effects on the brain, many credible organizations consider anorexia to be a mental illness.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a mental illness is a health condition that causes changes in emotion, thinking and behavior. People with mental health disorders typically deal with work, social and relationship problems.

Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, stated that recent research shows that eating disorders are severe mental health disorders. Anorexia is a form of mental illness that can lead to severe health problems or even death.

In a report published by the Academy for Eating Disorders, Insel alluded to genetic and neuroimaging studies that examined the effects of eating disorders like anorexia. These studies strongly suggest that anorexia has a genetic link similar to those of other mental illnesses.

The Academy for Eating Disorders says that anorexia is a mental illness because:

  • Anorexia causes emotional and cognitive problems that hinder the ability to complete everyday tasks
  • Restricting food intake, a telltale symptom of anorexia, has been shown to change brain structure, neurochemistry and metabolism. These brain alterations can cause people with the disorder to struggle to develop healthier behaviors
  • Medical and scientific evidence supports the proposition that anorexia and bulimia can be inherited
  • Anorexia is a life-threatening condition that can lead to several health complications

Judith Banker, president of the Academy for Eating Disorders, says that eating disorders are associated with the highest levels of medical problems and death of any psychiatric disorder. She emphasized that society should treat anorexia with the same level of care as with other psychological disorders.

Coping with anorexia without treatment can be difficult. Treating anorexia typically involves psychotherapy, medications and the gradual integration of healthy foods. Medical professionals can help people with anorexia learn ways to better manage their condition.


Parekh, Ranna , M.D., M.P.H. “What Is Mental Illness?” American Psychiatric Association, August 2018. Accessed February 20, 2019.

Academy for Eating Disorders. “Eating Disorders are Serious Mental Illnesses.” (n.d.) Accessed February 20, 2019.

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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.