Emmerdale star Gemma Oaten has spoken out about her personal struggle with anorexia – revealing she was admitted to a children’s psychiatric unit when she was just 10.

The actress – whose character Rachel Breckle made a shock return to the soap last month after going on the run with baby Archie – chose to speak to Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford on This Morning in aid of Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Gemma revealed: “For me, I’m very passionate about the fact that an eating disorder is a mental health illness. It’s nothing to do with vanity, I didn’t look in a magazine one day and think ‘I want to be like her’ – there was just one moment when I was younger and growing up and I remember looking down and saying to my dad ‘Am I fat?’ I was 10 and it’s a very vivid memory.

“My feelings towards myself were changing. I was getting bullied at school and for me the onset of puberty played a massive factor for me… All of a sudden girls would get jealous and I couldn’t control what people would say or do to me, but I could control what was going on inside me, and I remember thinking – and it’s heartbreaking to say it – but I remember thinking if there was less of me, there would be less for people to see and hurt.”

The soap star said she credited her parents with helping her to overcome her illness.

Gemma as Rachel Breckle in Emmerdale (ITV)



Gemma as Rachel Breckle in Emmerdale (ITV)

 

Gemma explained: “Help started when my mum and dad intervened. But then it was very hard to find the right avenue to get help, especially for a girl of 10. But I was put in a children’s psychiatric unit which wasn’t the right place for me personally… it was a very scary time.

“And over the next 12 years I was in and out of eating disorder units and I think the turning point when I was about 20 or 21 when one of my best friends killed himself. And I remember being at the funeral looking around at the devastation thinking I am doing exactly the same thing as what he did… and I can’t do this any more, and he had spoken to me the week before and said ‘Gemma, please get better’ and I didn’t realise then, but those were his parting words to me.”

 

 

And now the actress feels she has put the illness behind her and is ready to help others.

She said: “My journey was a roller coaster really, I had peaks of being well and then would go into a relapse. It was very difficult… but now I’m 30 and I feel like I’m starting to live again. A lot of people doubt that recovery exists.

“It’s not just about the sufferers, it’s about the carers and the torture of them seeing their loved ones going through hell and back. Effectively I was killing myself in front of my parents and loved ones. And that caused a lot of heartache.”