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NSW Coronial Inquiry links eating disorders and suicide

BUTTERFLY FOUNDATION CEO STATEMENT

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m with you today to call for a greater level of vigilance from all Australians, following today’s historic findings by the NSW Coroner that anorexia nervosa was a foundational component of a young woman’s suicide. Suicide is a leading cause of death for those suffering eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa.

The Coroner’s considered findings into Alana Goldsmith’s suicide death and its causes provide a pivotal opening to recognising eating disorders’ impact as a leading cause of suicide.

I would like to begin by expressing my admiration for the Goldsmith family. Their pursuit of the truth around the circumstances of Alana’s death, their courage and determination in fighting to have this truth about Alana’s death brought into the open, will undoubtedly serve to raise awareness and compel changes to our care and service models.
Alana’s death was tragic. She lost her long battle with anorexia nervosa in July 2011 when, like too many others, the challenges of the illness became overwhelming. Tragically, she was under the care of a specialist eating disorders hospital team at the time.

There have been far too many times, this year, when I had attended a funeral of someone who had succumbed to their eating disorder. Alana is one of around 1,800 Australians that we estimate will die this year in eating disorder-related circumstances.

The Coroner’s inquiry placed a bright spotlight on the deadly nature of eating disorders, giving Australia an opportunity to tackle the devastating impact eating disorders are having on our community.

The Coroner findings reflect the disastrous and heartbreaking statistic that 20% of all people suffering an eating disorder will die. Women with anorexia nervosa are 6 to 12 times more likely to die a premature death, including through suicide.
Today we are at a crossroad – we know the statistics, the pathways and the costs – but are we prepared to do something about it?

Something like urgently reviewing the procedures and treatment models of all treatment facilities, to ensure that they comprehend the high levels of risk that these illnesses place patients in.

The NSW Coroner’s findings made it clear that the true nature of eating disorders wasn’t being fully acted upon in Alana’s case, and that the insidious nature of the illness and its impact on the behaviours of patients was hidden.

We must not wait for the suicide death of another patient before glaring gaps in standards of care are corrected everywhere.

The only way forward from today’s recognition of eating disorders as serious and deadly illnesses, is to address the gaps in training, procedures and standards of treatment in Australia.

I repeat the Deloitte Access Economics estimate of Australian prevalence often, because it is a number is hard to get to grips with. There are almost a million people living with a clinical eating disorder in Australia. Only 22% of people with a diagnosed eating disorder are accessing specialist treatment for their illness.

On those figures there are approximately three quarters of a million Australians who need access to multi-disciplinary care, including GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, paediatricians, dieticians, mental health nurses, and allied health professionals. All of whom will need to have the necessary knowledge to treat this complex psychological disorder, which has very serious impacts on physical, mental and social health.

There is no easy way around this – eating disorders require specialist, timely and appropriate treatment.
Ladies and gentlemen of the media –- Butterfly will not stop fighting for safe, effective, appropriate and accessible care for all Australians living with an eating disorder.

Currently we do not have a full continuum of care in any health area of Australia. It is imperative that the Federal Government take leadership in prioritising eating disorders as a mainstream health issue.

The Government must:

• Work with State and territory governments to ensure adequate treatment facilities in both hospitals and in the community and with appropriate access to specialist knowledge;
• Ensure there is a trained workforce that is able to identify and treat eating disorders;
• Require health promotion and preventive initiatives, which focus on young people at risk of an eating disorder; and
• Provide community based recovery support and treatment services like the Butterfly Intensive Outpatient Program.

Without appropriate intervention as early as possible in the course of illness, eating disorders are likely to persist long term leading to significantly reduced quality of life and life expectancy, and most terrifyingly – more loss of life.
We must also look to ensure that the cost burden of this insidious illness is not borne only by the sufferers and their carers. Currently, someone like Alana seeking an appropriate treatment, such as that provide by the Intensive Outpatient treatment program can only access very limited health cost rebates.

Butterfly believes that it is essential that the lives claimed by eating disorders are appropriately recorded. Death certificates must accurately record the impact of the eating disorder, such as in this case with Alana suffering from anorexia nervosa that ultimately led to her suicide.

In the words of the coroner, she could no longer endure the burden of living with her mental condition – anorexia nervosa.

Alana’s family, and all those who suffer in a similar way, deserve to have the dignity of the truth on their loved one’s death certificate.

Eating disorders do not discriminate by gender, age, ethnicity, income or postcode. While they are most prevalent in young women we are seeing increasing numbers of males and older people who are affected.

Boys, as young as seven, are coming through the doors of our hospitals with eating disorders. And if we do not take a stand here, and take the necessary steps to address the current malaise – ensuring that we have the systems, the capacity and the access – then those devastated and prematurely ended lives are on us, for we have failed them.
I encourage all Australians to seek support and help for eating disorders.

ENDS

Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact the Butterfly National Eating Disorders Supportline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE).

Media enquiries:
Jenny Muir, 0415 401 200 / 02 9212 3888
Ian Zakon, 0438 131 813 / 02 9212 3888

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