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Suicide up to 31 times more likely for people with an eating disorder

Butterfly Foundation, Australia’s leading organisation for eating disorders, is sounding a MAYDAY alarm on the unacceptable number of eating disorder deaths due to suicide and medical complications in Australia.

The MAYDAY alarm draws attention to the need for a basic and consistent approach to the treatment and care of 1 million Australianswith an eating disorder by the Australian Government.

Butterfly Chairman David Murray AO is deeply concerned by the number of families and loved ones affected by suicide or having to endure the final hours of an agonizing death due to the medical complications of an eating disorder.

“Too many times in the past twelve months Butterfly staff have sat vigil with families as the health system has failed. When suicide is up to 31 times[1] more likely to occur for someone with an eating disorder, clearly the Government should address this problem with a dedicated focus. This is an intolerable situation and requires a MAYDAY alarm being sounded,” said Murray.

“Over the past twelve months Deloitte’s prevalence modelling tells us that we have added another fifty thousand Australians[2] to the growing number with an eating disorder. While we all wait on the Federal Government’s drawn-out mental health reform process, the ultimate cost of an eating disorder is being felt by too many families.”

“MAYDAYs for eating disorders Help Answer the Call” campaignfeatures the lived experience of four families’ agonising loss to suicide and medical complications. Each family can identify key failures of Australia’s health system as contributing factors to their loved ones death.

The MAYDAY’s families have bravely told their stories of grappling with inflexible treatment options and a poorly equipped health system. Many cited escalated levels of trauma and harm as treatment failed to be tailored to each person’s psychological and medical needs. The most common issue for families was the failure to recognise their valuable insight into the illness, and to provide support as they struggled with their own exhaustion levels from providing around the clock care.

Eating disorders are complex neuropsychiatric disorders associated with significant physical complications and increased mortality.

“Eating disorder experts are unanimous. Failure to provide treatment when it is needed, early in illness makes it harder to treat. The severity of someone’s eating disorder is directly related to the serious and ongoing levels of physical health and psychological harm, and the higher the risk of suicide,” concluded Mr Murray.

For the past 12 months Butterfly has consulted extensively with mental health and eating disorders clinicians and research experts, as well as over 700 people with a lived experience of an eating disorder, to identify the solutions to addressing the unacceptable gaps for eating disorders in Australia’s health system.

The announcement today by the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is recognition that those affected by eating disorders have been ignored to date and that systemic change is needed as a starting point for the urgent, fundamental lift in eating disorders services, is welcomed.

The Minister has committed to:

  1. A dedicated eating disorders Medicare approach;
  2. Mandating eating disorders as core business for the Primary Health Networks; and
  3. Implementing workforce training and service development through the 5th National Mental Health Plan and other initiatives.

Butterfly acknowledges that this is the first time that a government has recognised the fundamental building blocks needed to underpin the evidenced based approach to treating eating disorders.

Butterfly will now work with the Government to ensure these commitments translate into reality.  This will help provide a platform for the enormous amount of work that still needs to be done to bring affordable, accessible, evidence based care to any Australian with an eating disorder. The task remains significant. The Minister’s announcement, translated into reality, is a fundamental first step.

Given that suicide is up to 31 times more likely to occur for someone with an eating disorder, it is critical that the Government’s commitment to suicide research includes specific eating disorders research.

With the Minister’s announcement Butterfly will continue to need more resources to help guide health policy system reform and development of treatment service options.

Butterfly calls on all Australians affected by eating disorders to step forward during this MAYDAY’s campaign to add their reality to the solution.

To learn more about the MAYDAYs for eating disorders Help Answer the Call campaign go here

Butterfly encourages media to adhere to the Mindframe Guidelines for reporting of suicide and eating disorders

For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14

Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact Butterfly’s National Support Line on 1800 33 4673 or support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au

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Media Contact: Elaine Banoub 0412 237 673 ebanoub@primary-pr.com

Facebook - thebutterflyfoundation

Twitter - @BFoundation



[1] Preti, AR., Camboni, MV., & Miorro, P (2011). A comprehensive meta-analysis of the risk of suicide in eating disorders. Acta Psychiatr Scandinavia, 124:6-17

[2] Deloitte Access Economics. 2012 Paying the Price Report - the economic and social impact of eating disorders in Australia 

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