Compulsory treatment in anorexia nervosa. Short-term benefits and long-term mortality.
R Ramsay, A Ward, J Treasure, G F Russell


BACKGROUND Anorexia nervosa is a mental disorder with a high long-term mortality. Patients are ambivalent about treatment and often avoid it. Of necessity, compulsory treatment sometimes must be considered. A report from the Mental Health Act Commission has helped to reduce previous confusion.

AIMS To identify the premorbid and clinical features that predisposed to compulsory admissions, the short-term benefits of the treatment and the long-term mortality rates (derived from the National Register).

METHOD Eighty-one compulsory patients were compared with 81 voluntary patients.

RESULTS Predisposing factors to a compulsory admission were a history of childhood sexual or physical abuse or previous self-harm. Detained patients had more previous admissions. Detained patients gained as much weight during admission as voluntary patients, but took longer. More deaths among compulsory than voluntary patients (10/79 v. 2/78) were found 5.7 years (mean) after admission.

CONCLUSIONS Compulsory treatment is effective in the short term. The higher long-term mortality in the detained patients is due to selection factors associated with an intractable illness.