Gemma Oaten has opened on ITV Lorraine about the reality of coping with an eating disorder.
The former Emmerdale actress, from Hull, shared her story during Mental Health Awareness Week to prevent other suffering.
She spoke to ex-Love Island contestant Doctor Alex George, an advocate for mental health after losing his brother to suicide, about how her anorexia battle took over her life for 13 years.
The 37-year-old soap star revealed that her tragic battle caused her to “die almost four times”.
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Gemma was just ten years old when her struggles began: “A lot of my friends didn’t understand, a lot of the teachers didn’t understand. Back then it wasn’t spoken about so it’s very difficult.”
The pair went to visit Gemma’s old high school, Malet Lambert, to speak to children about eating disorders and provide them with the tools to recognise when early intervention is needed.
Dr Alex asked: “Eating disorders themselves are a mental health illness aren’t they. Were you aware of that at the time and what did you find people’s thoughts were around it?”
Gemma continued: “I lost 13 years of my life and almost died four times. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else. To understand what an eating disorder is, it’s not about food, food is the symptom it’s not the cause.”
Alex agreed: “It’s pretty clear talking about eating disorders in school is vital.”
Gemma added: “Early intervention is so key when it comes to the recovery rate of eating disorders.
“One of the biggest misconceptions and worries from teachers and parents when we talk about it initially, is that by talking about eating disorders is going to trigger it, and that’s not true because an eating disorder is going to present itself no matter what.
“But what we can do is give them the education and tools that they need to recognise it and say, okay, something doesn’t feel right and I need support for this.”
She shared on her Instagram that she hopes the segment reaches far and wide.
The former Emmerdale star, who describes herself as “well and recovered” from her struggles that began as a youngster, now spends much of her time helping to raise awareness about the reality of eating disorders.