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Mental Health

Navigating the System

An Insider's Look

Anonymous

Reprinted from "Eating Disorders" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 16, p. 35

Across North America, and indeed, the Westernized world, eating disorders and disordered eating are almost as common as, well, the common cold. Research, and a quick scan of your local city street or of TV programming show that this illness is on the rise. Pressure to fit into the mold of a narrowly-defined picture of perfection drives women to deny biological need and risk both health and happiness.

Given this rise in the population dealing with eating disorders (EDs) and the serious risk to health to those affected, one would imagine that the helping community would respond quickly with a range of services which would assist women dealing with EDs. This, however, is not the case. As one who has been a consumer of services for the past four years, I believe there is much ground to be covered if we are to provide holistic services with the flexibility to meet the needs of the women whose lives are affected.

I am a single, working woman, living in the Lower Mainland, who has had an ED for nearly six years. Since seeking help with my struggle to overcome my ED, I have accessed many of the services available in this community. Though the helping professionals in the field are caring, well-trained and compassionate, they lack the resources to provide the level of care necessary. The services available in BC are inadequate, incomplete, and lacking the flexibility to respond to women with different needs.

St. Paul’s Hospital has four beds available for acute care and three beds available for extended care. The waiting list for the acute beds, which serve women whose physical health is in jeopardy, is commonly three to four months long. The Vista/Discovery Program, which is a 12- week residential recovery program, has eight beds. A space in this program can take six to eight months to come available. The COPP Program is a community-based program which can offer support outside the hospital and treatment programs. Finally, St. Paul’s offers various support programs and services, but the wait to be assessed can be long.

The most obvious shortcoming in services is access. Women from Cranbrook to Fort St. John to Port Hardy must come to Vancouver to receive the specialized care of St. Paul’s. Though other communities may offer some services, they do not offer the range that Vancouver has. Women must incur the expense, inconvenience of travel, and due to these barriers, may be unable to access the necessary care.

Secondly, there is no ability to respond to the barriers that affect women’s lives. The services — that were once primarily accessed by younger women — are now needed by women who have commitments such as rent, children and elder care. Women with children often do not have the flexibility to spend three months in a treatment program. They may lack the supportive connections in the community to provide care for their children. Women who are working may not be able to afford time off; they may be unable to regularly access nutritionists, physicians and other professionals during working hours. The restrictions of the programs available make them inaccessible to those whose life commitments are not flexible.

Lack of service continues to be one of the most frustrating issues affecting access to care. The whole province depends on St. Paul’s for the provision of specialized services. The waiting lists are long and often devastating for those waiting. It is unacceptable, long before cuts to other medical services in BC, that women with EDs have been forced to wait months for basic service.

We have a long way to go in this province to support individuals suffering from EDs. Much must be done to educate ourselves and our communities to stop the continued rise of this disorder. The Association for Awareness and Networking Around Disordered Eating (ANAD), a province-wide organization dedicated to creating more understanding is chronically underfunded. Services must be broadened and increased and made available in local communities. Disordered eating and the illness it can give rise to are serious and often fatal conditions and must be attended to in our communities, both at the individual and community level.

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