Eating disorders: 'People will die waiting' for help, say advocates

Source: 1News

Advocates are concerned an extra $3.9 million to support people facing eating disorders will not go far enough to address the "desperate need of so many individuals and their families waiting right now to receive diagnosis and treatment".

Eating Disorder Association of New Zealand's Nicki Wilson told 1News treatment providers are stretched as they work to address a growing need, while "families and individuals are suffering unacceptably" as a result.

Wait times for accessing treatment services has grown in the past two years, with Voices of Hope co-founder Genevieve Mora - an advocate who has a lived experience with an eating disorder - noting how many are having to wait months to receive treatment.

"Quite frankly, people will die waiting if this does not change," she said.

It comes amid a surge in referrals and enquiries for support services during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

A person seeking support from a therapist (file image).

Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said the $3.9m package will "help increase the capacity of eating disorder services and reinforces our continued focus and commitment to improve mental health and addictions support in Aotearoa".

"Improving eating disorder services is a priority, especially as the number of people needing support has increased over the past 18 months."

The funding is expected to upskill existing staff, train new staff and improve recruitment levels, she said. It will also look at potentially bolstering a peer support workforce to increase the availability of specialist mental health and addiction support.

READ MORE: NZ-based eating disorder study reveals huge financial toll for families

Green Party's Chlöe Swarbrick said the extra funding is a "great start in recognising the need for better treatment and support".

“Eating disorders are treatable illnesses, and full, lasting recovery is possible at any age. We will continue to work towards a system that reflects that.”

'Desperate need'

The Eating Disorder Association of New Zealand's Nicki Wilson told 1News while the Government's commitment to the "desperately under-resourced sector is gratifying", they're concerned the amount will not go far enough to address the "desperate need of so many individuals and their families waiting right now to receive diagnosis and treatment".

Wilson said that treatment providers are stretched as they work to address a growing need and "families and individuals are suffering unacceptably" as a result.

"Eating disorders are treatable - the earlier people receive diagnosis and treatment, the sooner they recover and they and their families return to living their lives."

Genevieve Mora of Voices of Hope, an organisation that aims to break the stigma around mental illness, said while the Government's funding boost - the first to be allocated to eating disorders in nine years - is a positive step in the right direction, she expressed concern over how the cash injection will support the "large amount of people in desperate need".

"I know how hard it can be to reach out for help so it saddens me that many people are taking that courageous step and then being put on a list," she said.

"People are getting sicker; families are being torn apart; their illnesses are becoming more ingrained.

"Quite frankly, people will die waiting if this does not change."

Wilson and Mora both called for an independent review in order to assess the scale of people in need of help and are unable to access services, as well as providing evidence-based treatment.

"How are we supposed to fix an issue without knowing the scale of the issue at hand?" Mora said.

Wilson added that "until the system is reviewed and changes are made, we risk throwing good money after bad and perpetuating the current sub-optimal outcomes for individuals and their whānau".

"Full recovery is possible at any age and any stage."

About $15.5m is spent currently each year on eating disorders.

Where to get help:

1737 - Free text or call

Healthline - 0800 611 116 for 24/7 support

EDANZ - 0800 2 EDANZ - Support for family of those with an eating disorder

If you think you are suffering from an eating disorder, call your GP immediately for a referral to specialist services.

If it is an emergency or you, or someone you know, is at risk call 111.