Unfortunately, mental illness can cause attachment issues that seem to be environmental when they are really temporary symptoms. These symptoms are very easy to interpret as attachment related: social disconnection, disconnect with the body, rejection of family assistance, a conviction that there is meaning behind these thoughts and behaviors, and especially a disconnect with those who know them best: because the illness isolates and distorts reality.
I'm not sure whether my comments on a recent article at Psychology Today will be published, as the atmosphere has grown heated as families express their distress, but here is what I said:
I spend a lot of time with experts and researchers in the field of eating disorders. The experts are quite clear in saying that we really don't know what causes eating disorders. We do have a better grasp on what does NOT, as despite earnest efforts to substantiate older theories no real evidence has ever been validated.
It is SO important that we take care in publishing theories on the cause of eating disorders. There is a tragic history of unsupported theories gaining currency and causing great harm. Attachment theories around autism and schizophrenia come to mind here, as these completely false ideas hurt those patients terribly by disabling their parents from action and support.
Attachment is an important aspect of life for all human beings. Its role in causing mental illness is less clear. What we do know is that when a patient's parents are told that attachment problems are at the root of causing or maintaining this terribly dangerous illness that the family is at enormous risk of responding poorly. Imagine if a family facing caregiving with childhood cancer were told the same?
The burden of proof on these theories is a heavy responsibility. As well-meaning as it may be, the risk of harm is enormous.
F.E.A.S.T. (Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders)