UPHILL BATTLE: Wahgunyah mother Natasha Kirk is pushing for more eating disorder services on the Border. Picture: MARK JESSER

UPHILL BATTLE: Wahgunyah mother Natasha Kirk is pushing for more eating disorder services on the Border. Picture: MARK JESSER

Living regionally shouldn't be a barrier to getting help for eating disorders

Butterfly Foundation launches #PushingPastPostcodes to highlight regional challenges


Survivor concerned COVID-19 is "perfect time" for eating disorders to thrive


Natasha Kirk knows first-hand the struggles in accessing specialised eating disorder treatment regionally.

Everywhere she turned "the door would close".

And when the mum-of-six finally got access to a treatment, assimilating back into "normal life" when she got home was yet another struggle.

It is an ongoing battle for those in areas including the Border and is something those with lived experience and health care workers want to see changed.

"You come home and you are on your own again," Ms Kirk said.

"Living rurally can provide such a barrier to care.

"And when you do seek treatment it is often at least three hours away so there is the added stress of travel, finances and leaving your family."

Ms Kirk, who was diagnosed with anorexia in her 30s, said the lack of access to specialised help in the region needs urgent attention, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said would "be the perfect time" for eating disorders to take hold.

"Eating disorders are all about control and isolating that person," she said.

"COVID-19 is almost perfect, considering we are home all the time and during the height of the lockdown we couldn't travel.

"That in itself would stop people from seeking help."

The Butterfly Foundation launched its MAYDAYS 2020 #PushingPastPostcodes campaign last month highlighting the daily battle for treatment and support of more than 280,000 Australians living with an eating disorder regionally.

Chief executive Kevin Barrow said the campaign was a crucial step for improved access to affordable and safe eating disorder treatment and recovery services for all Australians, regardless of their postcode.

"There should be no barrier to access comprehensive and lifesaving eating disorder treatment and services," he said.

"Eating disorders do not discriminate by postcode, age, gender, ethnic background, culture, size or shape.

"Living remotely and having to travel long distances for appropriate eating disorder treatment highlights the gaps in our health system."

Ms Kirk said at her lowest point, where she weighed just 36 kilograms, she was on her own with her children.

"I was barely able to function - it affects every aspect of your life," she said.

"It is just so critical when that person isn't well and finally plucks up the courage and says 'yes I do need some help' to have support here on the ground.

"It isn't the process that it should be and it needs to change now.

"For me it just felt like every door closed for such a long time and with an eating disorder wanting to access care is very opportunistic.

"I used to think 'I need help, no I don't need help, this is a problem, no it isn't'."

UPHILL BATTLE: Wahgunyah mother Natasha Kirk is pushing for more eating disorder services on the Border. Picture: MARK JESSER

UPHILL BATTLE: Wahgunyah mother Natasha Kirk is pushing for more eating disorder services on the Border. Picture: MARK JESSER

In telling her story, Ms Kirk said she hoped more would be done to help local people struggling with an eating disorder.

And it all starts with "more services on the ground".

"There are so many behaviours around an eating disorder that need to be broken," she said.

"And that is where we need a really strong community team around us to deal with that.

"I would like to see some cross-border collaboration because there is a very noticeable gap on each side of the Border.

"There needs to be more services educating the GPs which is the first step,

"And we also need an outpatient clinic and an eating disorder coordinator to help those trying to navigate the system on their own because getting well really is an uphill battle.

"The support needs to be local."

Support is the most important thing when accessing treatment for an eating disorder, according to a Border mental health nurse.

And for Haylee, who has chosen to not share her surname due to work reasons, the impact on Border clients travelling to receive specialist care is detrimental to their treatment.

"There needs to more services provided locally that can provide that holistic treatment because we know when people have their supports around them of course treatment is going to be better," she told The Border Mail.

"If they have to add three or four hours travel to go to Melbourne or wherever they are going, they not only have the added time, cost and distance but they don't have their supports around them."

Haylee has been working in the local mental health sector for close to 15 years and said a national system for specialist eating disorder care was needed.

"A national credentialing system is also needed so you know that when a person is presenting with symptoms of an eating disorder, they are receiving the right care at the right time by the right person, and that their experience will be validated and heard," she said.

"Your first point of contact should be with a GP who can refer you on to specialised treatment services.

"Ideally this should include a multidisciplinary team that includes a dietitian and psychologist or a counsellor that is experienced with eating disorders."

While Haylee said she was always pushing for more services locally, she encouraged people to "keep knocking on the door" of the services that are available.

"There is also a lot of fear but recovery is possible and there is support out there," she said.

  • Anyone needing support is encouraged to contact Butterfly's national helpline 1800 ED HOPE or Lifeline 13 11 14.