A 37 year-old Latrobe Valley woman hopes to use her battle with an eating disorder to encourage others with the condition to seek help and spur stronger community engagement.
Karen, whose real name has been withheld to protect her privacy, was diagnosed with anorexia six years ago.
She said weight was never an issue for her until she noticed the mere site of food had begun to terrify her.
Weighing in at 56 kilograms before her diagnosis, Karen at one stage dropped to 37kg and ate less than her eight month-old niece and nephew.
Karen said she could not identify a specific reason for her eating disorder, but recalled undergoing a lot of pressure in her professional and personal life prior to getting sick.
“I guess looking back there’s a huge amount of pressure I was going under – in terms of high levels of stress at work, my personal life, my age, the social expectations… where you should be when you’re 30,” she said.
Karen said community support for those suffering with an eating disorder was crucial because people with this condition were normally in “hiding”.
She said there appeared to be no support groups or local services for eating disorders available in the Valley.
Karen said she travelled to Melbourne to see a psychiatrist, a dietician, and a psychologist, paying $600 per visit.
Lately she was told by the Latrobe Valley Community Mental Health Service she was being “cut off” from their service because she was not “sick enough” to qualify in their category of someone in crisis.
“I feel it feeds into my illness,” she said.
“Its like, ‘well, I only got the bare minimum assistance when I was critically unwell, and now that I am “better” (from society’s view of my physical appearance), I am cut off and left to my own devices, so if only I was just as unwell looking again, then someone might still help me fight my head and thoughts everyday’,” she said.
Karen said there was more to anorexia than the desire to lose weight and people must not dismiss this condition as something that could be solved by just having the will to eat.
“Everyday is a battle. People can be scared of spiders or scared of heights but they don’t need to deal with that everyday,” she said.
“When you’re terrified with food and literally terrified to put it into your mouth, you have to deal with that six times a day. So you can’t avoid it,” she said.
Latrobe Regional Hospital refused to comment specifically on Karen’s case due to patient privacy issues.
LRH director for mental health Cayte Hoppner said mental health services, including support for people with eating disorders, were provided for people across the Gippsland region.
Ms Hoppner said a plan for an eating disorders clinic in Gippsland was in development by a multi-disciplinary workgroup to complement the work being undertaken by LRH’s specialist consultant psychiatrists.
“Neither staffing nor resources prevent people from accessing our specialist services,” Ms Hoppner said.
“We work with people to ensure they receive specialist care as it is required and in many cases, that care can be provided by a number of agencies.”
Karen has set up an email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, where people suffering from eating disorder email her and share their stories.