27 January 2022

New service launched to help Canberrans navigate eating disorder support, but more work to be done

| Lottie Twyford
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The new service will connect Canberrans battling eating disorders with support services. Photo: ACT Government.

The ACT Government has launched the ACT Eating Disorders Clinical Hub, a central intake point to connect Canberrans battling eating disorders with support services, but advocates will continue to push for more investment.

“There’s a range of different services that we provide in the ACT for eating disorders, and it can be really hard to navigate the system,” Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson said.

“We know that young people, in particular, have had a really hard time in this pandemic, so it’s great this service is available now and will be able to start helping people straight away.”

The Hub will bring together people from several disciplines and conduct research, and provide education and training for families and carers.

“We’ll be able to help people a lot sooner by connecting them with the right services,” Ms Davidson explained.

People can refer themselves or someone they may be concerned about to the Hub so an assessment can be conducted and support provided. GPs or medical professionals can also refer individuals.

Under a stepped model of care, people can then be referred to programs such as STRIDE, the Eating Disorders Program or the Parenting Group if deemed clinically necessary.

Other support can also be suggested, such as a mental health plan, a referral to a GP or other practitioner, or education materials.

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Survivors have often spoken out about the toll it takes on a person who has an eating disorder to reach out for help and find none available.

As advocate Kate Steen told Region Media, “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”.

Mrs Steen – who has been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa – knows firsthand that getting help for an eating disorder is a time-critical issue so the system has to be positioned to take people in as soon as they reach out for help.

Eating Disorders Families Australia (EDFA) ACT Director David Quilty – who has cared for a loved one with an eating disorder – welcomed the announcement.

“It can be very challenging for people with eating disorders and their families to navigate the system. Having an eating disorder is very complex in terms of your needs and you need to access a range of clinicians and support services,” Mr Quilty said.

When there are waitlists, that access becomes increasingly difficult.

“Having a central hub will mean support can be more timely,” Mr Quilty said. EDFA ACT will continue to push the government to further invest in eating disorder support as the number of sufferers around the country continues to grow.

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The launch of the Hub is only part of the puzzle to improve the ACT’s eating disorder support system.

A $13.5 million residential eating disorder treatment centre is expected to be built by mid-2023 to address a significant shortfall of available services.

According to national data, four in 100 people are affected by an eating disorder, which means more than 17,000 Canberrans could be living with an eating disorder.

There are no inpatient services for people living with eating disorders in the ACT and only one public specialist outpatient treatment option – the Eating Disorders Program in Phillip, which has a months-long waitlist.

This means many Canberrans are required to travel interstate for support.

Similarly, access to psychologists, psychiatrists, dieticians and GPs who specialise in this area can also be challenging as waitlists are long.

People can contact the Hub via phone on 02 5124 4326 or by emailing chs.eatingdisordersclinicalhub@act.gov.au.

Anyone in need of support for an eating disorder can also contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 334 673 or talk to their GP.

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