In a move that is expected to save lives and ease the plight of affected families, Canberra is to finally get a residential eating disorder centre after a decade of campaigning.
The Federal Government has pledged funding of $13.5 million in Tuesday night’s budget to establish the in-patient centre as part of a $68 million health care package for the ACT.
This will mean that ACT residents suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia will no longer have to travel interstate for periods as long as six months for critically-needed specialist residential care.
“This is a huge win for people in the territory with eating disorders and their families. They will have somewhere to go,” said Dr Sarah Maguire, director of the national InsideOut Institute for Eating Disorders.
“It is pure anguish when you’re watching someone seemingly starve to death and you can’t get them a hospital bed.”
Dr Maguire said a lot of people with eating disorders have had to travel interstate to access services and this had made it even harder for their families and those who care for them. She said that the new centre will be good for families, will save lives and will also have a respite function.
ACT Senator Zed Seselja said that the new centre will provide specialist care to hundreds of people experiencing eating disorders through in-patient best practice treatment programs.
“The centre will also help advance the way eating disorders are diagnosed and treated through training, education and advocacy.”
Urgent need for centre
Senator Seselja said the centre was identified as one of the ACT Government’s priorities and he expects that it will be established in the next year or two as there is such an urgent need for it.
“If you’ve spoken to anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder or particularly the families of young people who sometimes disproportionately suffer from eating disorders, to have high-end care will be wonderful and certainly what I would want to see done as quickly as possible,” he said.
He said that patients would also benefit from the Government’s investment in Medicare to provide up to 40 rebatable psychological and 20 dietetic sessions a year for people suffering from an eating disorder.
Canberran Molly Saunders knows all too well the difficulties of having to travel interstate for treatment and has been one of the key activists pushing for the new centre and other services, presenting a petition to the ACT Government last October. She said that news of funding for the centre is “fantastic”.
“When I read about it I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because I was so happy and so emotional,” Molly said.
Molly said that she suffered from anorexia nervosa which morphed into binge eating and bulimia.
With no services available in Canberra, Molly spent from May to September in 2014 at the Northside clinic in Sydney, with her mother travelling to visit her every weekend.
“She just wanted to know that I was alive.”
“There’s such a high fatality rate with people with eating disorders. She just wanted to be there to know that I was alive,” Molly recalls.
“My experience is that there are a lot of people in Canberra who go to Sydney for treatment.
“When you have to go away for treatment that is mentally and physically exhausting, to be away from family and friends is challenging.”
After returning to Canberra, Molly had outpatients’ treatment until 2016 when she was officially discharged.
Now studying Arts/Law at ANU and working at a law firm, Molly has been trying to make a difference for others suffering from eating disorders.
“I kept coming across all these people who were having similar experiences,” she said.
“It’s such an intense and long illness. It’s incredibly draining on your parents and family members.”
Molly said that the new centre will aid recovery because sufferers will stay close to their networks of family and friends, and will help families who won’t be faced with the expense and upheaval of travelling interstate.
Although there are no official statistics for the ACT, Molly believes that the rates of people suffering from eating disorders could be higher in the territory due to demographics. She gave the example of visiting a single school year group and finding out that there were five people with the illness.