Hunter needs more services needed to help win the fight against eating disorders

SHORTAGE OF SERVICES: A Hunter woman who has been battling eating disorders for 17 years says the region needs more services.
SHORTAGE OF SERVICES: A Hunter woman who has been battling eating disorders for 17 years says the region needs more services.

THE long-term treatment of an eating disorder often comes at a high price, but patients determined to recover say it is an expense they cannot afford to delay.

Anna, not her real name, has spent 17 of her 33 years battling anorexia and bulimia. She would like to see her psychologist, psychiatrist, and dietitian more often, but the cost of treatment meant it  wasn’t affordable. She is grateful her GP, whom she sees once a week, bulk bills.

“I am proactive because one day I’d like to live without it, and I really want the help,” she said. “I do a lot of things that I know other girls wouldn’t.”

Anna said while services in the Hunter Region had improved exponentially since she first sought treatment in her early 20s, there was still a need for more specialised local eating disorder services.

Having top private health insurance was crucial.

“I go down to Northside Clinic in Sydney and it is amazing how many girls from Newcastle are in there,” she said. “It is an inpatient service there, and I know there are people who travel down every couple of days to do an outpatient program there as well. I did it for a while, but I found the travel was just too much every day.”

She would stay at Northside three or four times a year, with visits lasting between four and 12 weeks.

The distance made it hard for family members to visit.

“We need more services in Newcastle,” she said. “With all the girls who go through Northside from here, there would be so many people being able to access it.”

Anna was admitted to RPA’s eating disorder inpatient program in Sydney in 2008.

Prior to the Centre For Psychotherapy at James Fletcher Hospital opening an eating disorders program last year, Anna said there had been little in the way of local services, especially for adults.

“I went through that program twice in the same year,” she said. “It was really great - I got a lot from it. It was a really intensive program, and the area really needed it. But after that, you really have to go to Sydney for that kind of help.”

She would like to see her psychologist at least once a week. But at $200 a session, that was not possible. Especially when compounded with the cost of seeing a psychiatrist and a dietitian.

“I can only afford to see my psychologist every three-to-four weeks, which isn’t really enough,” she said.

“I know a lot of people think “just eat”, but it’s not like that. We don’t do this to hurt anyone or to put our parents and families through what we do. I don’t want my eating disorder. But with it comes shame and embarrassment.  To have someone to talk to every week is necessary to give yourself the best chance of recovering.”