Australians wait months for eating disorder support as referrals double across country

Akram Kasim learned that his organs could fail after losing half of his body weight in a few months and was rushed to the emergency room.

“My body was so exhausted that it would pass out for a few seconds,” said the 23-year-old.

“My heartbeat was in the 30’s. I was scared, like ‘Akram, what have you done to yourself?” he said.

Before being admitted to hospital, Kasim said he struggled to find immediate support from an eating disorder psychologist.

To be admitted to the Statewide Eating Disorder Service (SEDS) inpatient unit, she was told it would take two assessments and then a wait time of up to two months, which SA Health has confirmed. .

SEDS is a specialized mental health service providing a variety of care options for people with eating disorders, including an intensive inpatient recovery program for people with severe eating disorders. and complex.

Mr Kasim eventually spent two months at Flinders Medical Center, including two weeks at SEDS, and “begged” for individual counseling.

He said he attended group therapy but only spoke to a psychologist once for 15 minutes.

He said it was no help because he was unable to talk about his personal issues.

“I literally begged the doctors to let me see a psychologist or a social worker to listen to me,” he said.

“You can ask anyone on the ward, everyone is ready to go home.

“A lot of people have raised concerns with the staff, but nothing seems to be done.”

In a statement, SA Health said a multidisciplinary team was providing 24-hour care through SEDS programs.

The team included a mental health occupational therapist, a full-time psychiatry registrar and medical resident, a regular dietitian and expert mental health nurses, and a consultant psychiatrist is present five days a week and on call after hours..

“Psychological care is provided not only by psychologists, but by the whole team,” said Randall Long, senior consultant psychiatrist at SEDS.

Patients living with eating disorders say more needs to be done to support people waiting for appointments.(ABC News: Sowaibah Hanifie)

Mr. Kasim recently retired from service, believing he would recover better at home with the support of his family.

Sarah Maguire, director of the InsideOut Institute, Australia’s national institute for research and clinical excellence in eating disorders, said services would be best suited to meet the needs of patients requiring individual time. with a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.

“Certainly in an acute care hospital, regardless of your diagnosis, it would be good practice to be able to see a clinical psychologist on request,” said Dr Maguire.

“[But] it is not uncommon in an acute context for access to clinical psychology to be difficult to obtain. “

The National Eating Disorder Collaboration says services have been unable to meet patient demand due to COVID-19.

National increase in eating disorders and long waits for help

The national charity for Australians with eating disorders, Butterfly Foundation, has reported a 43% increase in calls to its helpline during the pandemic, of more than 20,000 people who contacted the foundation in June 2018 to July 2019.

Request from the foundation’s school prevention program, which aims to educate students about eating disorders and body image, was also up 150% in the first half of 2021 from 10,000 inquiries for the program in 2019.

At the same time, the National Eating Disorder Collaboration found that people are waiting four to six months for assessments and treatments in both private and public systems, with referrals up 50% from 2019.

She said more and more people are coming to hospitals with serious and complex problems due to waiting too long for help.

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The National Eating Disorder Collaboration found that people wait four to six months for eating disorder assessments and treatment in both private and public systems. (Provided)

Dr Maguire said the availability of clinical psychologists needs to increase as hospitals struggle to cope with the increasing number of patients with eating disorders.

“The difference between the remuneration of a private sector psychologist and that of a public sector psychologist is really significant,” said Dr Maguire.

“Getting psychologists to work in the public sector and stay there is really difficult because there is such a big difference in what they can earn.”

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Sarah Maguire, director of InsideOut, said the availability of psychologists in the public health system needs to be increased.(Provided)

Patients discouraged from essential support due to wait times

Mr. Kasim believes his health would not have deteriorated so quickly if he had received help earlier.

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He urges others with eating disorders not to give up seeking help.

“I actively tried to sue, but continued to be dissuaded because every time I tried to reach out it was like I had to wait two to three months,” he said. .

“Some of the other patients [in my program] told me they had to wait six months to get into an eating disorder program. ”

Dr Maguire said patients in Victoria and Queensland had access to certain programs while they waited for help.

According to SA Health, patients in South Australia should be referred to a wait assistance program if they call the SEDS hotline.

However, Dr Maguire called for greater awareness of these programs to help patients who waited long for appointments with specialists.


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