Despite the recent announcement of increased funding for eating disorder support in the ACT, one advocate still isn’t convinced this is enough.
Kate Steen, a 34-year-old mother and lawyer, who was recently diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, was shocked to discover the lack of services available in the ACT.
There are currently no inpatient services for people living with eating disorders in the ACT and only one public specialist outpatient treatment option.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has now committed $200,000 in additional funding to provide more services for people affected by eating disorders as part of a $14 million mental health and community support package.
The Canberra Health Services – Eating Disorders Clinical Hub will receive $195,000 and $5,000 has been allocated to Eating Disorders Families Australia (ACT).
Mrs Steen says that while she is heartened by the announcement, which shows eating disorder support is on the government’s radar, she says Canberrans living with eating disorders and their families deserve longer-term certainty and real change.
At this stage, she feels only “cautious optimism”.
Earlier this month, Dr Marisa Paterson sponsored Mrs Steen’s petition calling on the ACT Government to review the current level of support available for people with eating disorders and the actions that have been taken since the Position Statement was made public.
She says this petition remains just as relevant even with the short-term funding announcement.
Mrs Steen’s own experience showed her that the only specialist outpatient treatment option – the Eating Disorders Program in Phillip – has a months-long waitlist.
“It takes courage to ask for help, and to be told that it won’t be provided for such a long time is more than heartbreaking, it’s incomprehensible.”
As someone who knows how the system works, Mrs Steen said that getting help for an eating disorder is a time-critical issue.
“Research has shown that the most effective way to treat an eating disorder is quickly, so the system has to be positioned to take people in as soon as they reach out for help.”
Mrs Steen encourages those struggling or experiencing disordered thoughts around eating to reach out for help, and says it’s not a matter of needing a new program, just better resourcing.
“All of the interactions I have had with the staff at Phillip have been positive; it’s simply that they don’t have the capacity to take me and others like me on board earlier,” she explained.
“There are a lot of us out there seeking the same service.”
While she says the Eating Disorders Program and the ACT Government’s Eating Disorder Position Statement go some way to recognising the need for increased services, as does the dual commitment of the Commonwealth and ACT Government to a $13.5 million purpose-built clinic, both Dr Paterson and Mrs Steen think the need for care remains urgent.
Mrs Steen wants to hear more about where the work is on this promise from the Territory and federal government.
“As far as we can see, there’s still nothing tangible to be shown for that with Canberrans still being required to travel to Sydney and Melbourne for treatment.”
At the moment, the only options for inpatient treatment are for patients to be medically stabilised in the hospital and then potentially treated in a psychiatric ward, but there is nothing specialised.
“The best treatment is multidisciplinary and wraparound.”
According to Dr Paterson, there’s a real need to provide appropriate, dedicated support service because four in 100 people in Australia are affected by an eating disorder.
Using current population statistics for the ACT, more than 17,000 Canberrans could be living with an eating disorder. Many of these will have to travel interstate to seek treatment under the current arrangements.
ACT residents can view and sign the petition before 23 November.
Anyone in need of support for an eating disorder should contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 334 673 or talk to their GP.