A young girl in a black top takes a selfie with her mum in a white shirt pink cardigan, in a medical setting

“It’s like war”: Every Australian with an eating disorder has a family struggling with mental illness


Melbourne’s mother from Melbourne has been supporting her 18-year-old daughter to recover from anorexia nervosa for the past seven years, with the help of Sarah’s father Glenn.

Caring for Elise is a job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – Sarah constantly monitors her daughter, making sure she eats six meals a day, so that she doesn’t secretly exercise in her room or steal out at night.

There are times when Elise is so desperate that she needs to be physically restrained to protect her from self-harm.

“It’s like a war,” Sarah said.

Elise’s eating disorder began when she was 12, in the middle of her transition from primary to secondary school.

During the pandemic, the symptoms of Elise’s eating disorder worsened.

Sarah thinks that a sudden lack of routine and more time online have worsened her daughter’s condition.

Elise is not alone.

COVID causes a sharp increase in eating disorders

A recent study in The Lancet found that COVID-19 increased the global prevalence of eating disorders by up to 15.3 percent in 2020 compared to previous years.

From 2021 to 2022, Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV) saw a 300 percent increase in demand for its services.

EDV knee worker Gemma De Leo said more than a million Australians suffer from eating disorders each year, but only a quarter of them received treatment.

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on people with eating disorders, whether it is new diagnoses, new presentations, people who are recovering, their symptoms have worsened, or people who have recovered and relapsed due to the pandemic.” she said.

The increase in cases could have fatal consequences – eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders.

The mental health system needs to be “rebuilt”

On Wednesday, the Victorian government announced a $ 20 million package to support Victorians with eating disorders, including 15 additional mental health beds and four multidisciplinary mental health teams in regional Victoria.

There is also funding to develop a new national strategy for eating disorders, so that Victoria has a more coordinated response in the future to support people living with eating disorders, as well as their carers, families and supporters.

“We need to fundamentally rebuild our mental health system, but we also have to deal with the long end that will emerge from this pandemic,” said Victorian Mental Health Minister James Merlino.

Sarah welcomed the funding, but said people like her now “desperately” needed more support.

Constant care duties place enormous stress on the whole family and strained relationships.

“We have lived this hell for seven years and we will continue to do so because there is no support,” Sarah said.

The gap in the “hospital carousel”

Elise was hospitalized with anorexia 15 times because her health was critically endangered.

At the hospital, Elise receives 24-hour care to reach a point where she is medically stable.

Sarah says her daughter is then released and there is no support for families trying to pave the constant care together.

“There is a huge gap between hospitalization and when you have access to daily services,” Sarah said.

“You have to have a certain BMI [body mass index] Get outpatient services because they know the brain doesn’t work when you’re malnourished. “

Christine Naismith, co-founder of Eating Disorder Families (EDFA), Australia, said many people had experienced a “carousel” of going to the emergency department and being released without the necessary care or plan for the future.

Christine Naismith says that eating disorders affect not only individuals but families.(ABC Radio Melbourne: Madi Chwasta)

Christina’s daughter Alana was diagnosed with anorexia in 2012 and has now recovered from this condition.

Alana recalls being released from the hospital as “the worst time for a family.”

“I was the center of attention, my mom had to sleep in my bedroom for months and watch me shower,” said Miss Naismith.

“There’s not much support for the other siblings.”

That time had a lasting impact on the entire Naismith family.

Alan’s sister is currently being treated for an evasive restrictive eating disorder.

Mrs. Naismith’s son suffered from depression.

Why a national approach is needed

While welcoming the Victorian government’s investment, Ms Naismith said Australia needed a national approach to eating disorders to ensure consistent care across the country.

“Treatment of eating disorders is seriously lacking in large cities and is almost non-existent in many regional areas.”

In each state and territory, different organizations try to solve the same problems.

Ms Naismith said a national approach would allow Australia to treat eating disorders more effectively – which means less money spent on planning and more on patient care.

Federal Health Service spokesman Greg Hunt said the government has set aside more than $ 250 million for eating disorders, national coordination and research.

“The Morrison government has provided $ 110.7 million for Medicare’s first specific eating disorder, enabling people with eating disorders to complete up to 40 Medicare-subsidized psychological and 20 dietary treatment sessions per year,” the spokesman said.

“The Morrison government is also funding the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) to lead the development and implementation of a nationwide, consistent, evidence-based care system for the prevention and treatment of eating disorders.”

ABC turned to the opposition for comment, but it did not respond by the deadline.

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