When TLOU’s Bella Ramsey opened up on anorexia and mental health struggles

Bruno Cooke January 18, 2023
When TLOU’s Bella Ramsey opened up on anorexia and mental health struggles

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In just the last week, Bella Ramsey has given two high profile interviews, with The New York Times and Elle, in which she has opened up about many things – her mental health, anxiety, her relationship with labels and gender – but it’s worth remembering the time, in 2018, when she spoke candidly about her struggle with anorexia nervosa.

In October of that year, at the age of 15, she posted on Twitter about her diagnosis.

She had been grappling with the illness for a “year or so” before her diagnosis, which had come a year or so before her post. 

Meaning: Ramsey was likely only 12 or 13 when the eating disorder first “had a hold of” her.

Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

When did Bella Ramsey open up about her anorexia nervosa diagnosis and health?

On World Mental Health Day in 2018, then-15-year-old English actor Bella Ramsey took to Twitter to share her story as regards her anorexia nervosa diagnosis and mental/physical health in general.

“Today is the day,” she wrote. She had received her diagnosis “just over a year ago,” relative to the series of tweets. “Although,” she added, “this illness had a hold of me for a year or so before that.”

Following her timeline, it would appear as if she first started to experience symptoms of the eating disorder partway through 2016.

Born Isabella May Ramsey in September 2003, Bella would therefore likely have been 12 or so when anorexia nervosa first, in her words, “had a hold” of her.

She told her followers ‘there is always a way out’

In counselling sessions, she continued, she tried hard to “pinpoint exactly what set this eating problem in motion.”

She couldn’t. “We never got to the bottom of it,” she wrote, noting that this may be true for “a lot of people” struggling with their mental health.

But she reassured anyone reading that, while unpacking the root cause of a mental health issue may feel like the most important thing, “there’s always a way out,” even without identifying a mainspring.

“There’s always light at the end of the tunnel,” she wrote. And, thankfully, “I am fortunate to have reached that light, [even if] at moments it felt non-existent.”

(Two years later, she talked about another anxiety she has suffered with: emetophobia, or, the fear of vomiting and seeing others being sick. See her Instagram post below.)

What was it that helped Bella Ramsey in her health recovery from anorexia nervosa?

It was her relationship with Christianity. “For me,” she wrote, “that light was Jesus.”

Her faith played a “huge part” in her recovery, as did her family. Elsewhere, Ramsey has seldom talked publicly about individual family members, although the New York Times writes that she has a sister, seemingly older, whom she followed into amateur theatre. 

Four or so years later, Elle adds that, today, Ramsey’s faith has “transformed into something less church-directed.”

It quotes her as saying it has now become “totally [her] own, although it’s still “a fundamental part of [her] life.”

She uses all pronouns and identifies as non-binary

In her interview with The New York Times, published January 11, 2023, Bella Ramsey talks about her relationship with gender, and the paper notes that she has regularly “used her art” to help her process aspects of her life – including the mental health questions that emerged out of her anorexia nervosa diagnosis.

Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

As a child, per the Times, she “loved being mistaken for a boy by strangers.”

She describes her gender as having always been “very fluid,” and always ticks “nonbinary” on forms if the option is there. 

“I’m very much just a person,” the paper quotes her as saying. “Being gendered isn’t something that I particularly like, but in terms of pronouns, I really couldn’t care less.”

And she continued: “I think, in the past, I’ve had maybe a slightly unhealthy relationship with labels. The label of anorexia is one that I totally – it was like a comfort blanket for me. I held onto it too much. So, I’m wary of them. But I also think that I, in many ways, don’t have the guts to assign a label to myself.”

She recently returned to a film script she started working on when she was 14. It’s a project “inspired partly,” according to the Times, “by her own experience with anorexia nervosa.”

If you or someone you know needs support, there are many eating disorder helplines in the UK here to help. Beat can be contacted at 0808 801 0677 while Mind’s contact number is 0300 123 3393. Or, if you are based in the USA, you can call NEDA on (800) 931-2237.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.