‘Demons never go away’: Parents battle for anorexia support
South Australian children and teens suffering eating disorders have a six-month wait to access family-based treatment, while adult outpatients are waiting twice as long for help compared to before COVID-19.
The Sunday Mail can report that SA eating disorder care experts are now using temporary support measures to help those in queues.
Meanwhile SA Health has confirmed the long-awaited Statewide Eating Disorder Service (SEDS) Centre - announced in 2019 as a "world-class" facility - will not open before late 2022.
Experts say demand, particularly among children and youth, has been exacerbated by COVID-19, with a Flinders University study revealing SA women aged 17-25 at risk of developing eating disorders purged almost three times more during the pandemic
Every minute counts when treating eating disorders, warns the Adelaide father of a woman who took her own life more than 10 years after her anorexia diagnosis.
Mario Corena has helped support development of the new SEDS Centre which he hopes will better assist younger sufferers and their families with more co-ordinated, overarching residential and clinical care.
"Eating disorders are serious mental disorders that require specialist services, especially in younger patients, and can have a profound effect on patients and families if not properly managed," said Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists SA branch chairman Dr Paul Furst.
"It is an indictment on SA Health that despite government commitment to funding paediatric eating disorders, and an entirely predicted surge in demand driven by COVID-19, that the failure to resolve the governance issues and model of care has seen a belated recruitment of less than two clinicians," he said.
Flinders University Services for Eating Disorders (FUSED) director Professor Tracey Wade said "everyone is playing catch up" with the rise in eating disorders, particularly among youth, "triggered" by the pandemic and lockdowns.
Professor Wade said Flinders University, SA Health and the Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation were supporting those on waiting lists through online, self-help guided family-based therapy; lived advice from former eating disorder sufferers or their carers; and cognitive remediation therapy and psychoeducation through a PhD student.
"Evidence suggests such brief interventions can kickstart some beneficial change," she said.
Prof Wade's comments back study findings by Flinders University PhD student Joanne Zhou who compared survey results from women who were considered at risk of developing an eating disorder in February last year, before lockdown, and in November, during the pandemic.
She found significant differences in symptoms included:
■ 17 per cent of the participants who entered the study during COVID reported vomiting in the 28 days before taking the survey, compared to 7 per cent of participants before lockdown.
■ 78 per cent of participants fasted for more than eight waking hours during COVID-19, compared to 61 per cent before the pandemic.
■ 75 per cent of participants were driven to exercise during COVID-19, compared to 66 per cent before the pandemic.
Ms Zhou said the unpublished findings showed young women at risk of developing an eating disorder were more likely to engage in disordered eating as a coping mechanism.
"So being able to access mental health services or tools is extremely crucial over these times," she said.
Current waiting times for SEDS outpatient psychotherapy treatment is up from four weeks in February 2020 to eight weeks - and there is a six-month wait for a family-based treatment service for children and adolescents that began in late June 2020 and is known to reduce admissions and readmissions. There are 20 families waiting at the moment.
SA Health says there has been a fall in overall waiting times for child and youth eating disorder services from 12 weeks in 2020 to five weeks now, due to more staff, rapid assessment and working more closely with paediatricians.
It says recent recruitment of an additional 1.5 full-time equivalent clinicians for outpatient services will help with rising numbers of referrals.
Breakthrough executive director John Mannion said eating disorders were the third most common chronic illness in young women, with suicide the leading cause of death.
"We can't keep allowing it to get to crisis point - we need proactive strategies in place now to help people with this devastating disease in the future," said Mr Mannion.
Breakthrough and the federal and state governments are funding the new SEDS centre, at the Repatriation Hospital site, in Daw Park. Construction is due to start by the end of the year.
"The centre will provide sufferers and their families with long term clinical and residential support as well and skills to help them succeed outside of the residential facility with therapists, clinicians and researchers able to measure the success of treatment in real time and adjust accordingly," said Mr Mannion.
It says a draft model of care that is pivotal to the centre's design is reaching its final stages before release for wider community consultation.
To help support the SEDS centre, call Breakthrough on 8236 8801 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published as 'Demons never go away': Parents battle for anorexia support