Why Shorter Waiting Times for Eating Disorder Treatment Is So Important

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This week, the Prime Minister announced new plans for extra support for people with mental health issues. David Cameron promised to cut down the waiting times for young people with eating disorders. Now, patients will have to be treated within a week, under new government waiting time targets.

As a long time sufferer myself, this was a relief to hear. Waiting times for treatment of any disorder is a frustrating thing. We are dealing with a health problem, which could kill us, and they put us on a waiting list, which can last for months, if not years, but for people suffering with an eating disorder, it is even more dangerous.

After being discharged from one unit, I had to wait a year to get assessed for another one and I was not getting any better whilst waiting. In fact, I got severely worse to the point where I just wanted to die and could not even function anymore. Even drinking water seemed like a scary concept.

When you do eventually get help after waiting for a long time, you just feel like you are past help, which explains why it is so hard to get better. I felt like I didn’t deserve help. The longer you leave a patient waiting, the harder it is to get better.

An eating disorder is a life-threatening illness and to many sufferers, being on a waiting list is a recipe for disaster because to them it means they are not “anorexic enough” to get help, which they turn into being “fat”.

Chloe, 20, from Suffolk who suffers with an eating disorder says, she hasn’t been referred to an eating disorder specialist yet because she isn’t “underweight enough”.

“I have a heart condition and other complications due to my eating disorder but because I’m not underweight enough I can’t receive help even though it is damaging my health greatly,” she says.

Some eating disorder sufferers may not be dying, however it is not just about physical health. Truth be told, the emotional pain inside is what is killing us the most and whether the person does not seem to be dying outside, I can guarantee you that the person is dying inside, which is why eating disorders need to be treated as soon as possible because it is a psychological problem. The physical problem is only the symptom of the illness so therefore, if it is not treated early, it gets worse.

However, the Prime Minister’s announcement this week may be positive, but the thing that left me and other sufferers rather angry is that the shorter waiting time target is only aimed at teenagers.

Andrew Radford, CEO of eating disorder charity Beat said:

“We urge the Department of Health to extend the waiting time target so that it also applies to adults with eating disorders. Eating disorders may predominantly start in adolescence but we know there are many, many individuals over the age of 18 who are still seeking support and are unable to find it because of the lack of investment in this area. Parity with physical health should mean for all, not just for those in Child and Adolescent Health Services.”

39-year-old Charlotte from London, who suffers from anorexia, says as underweight as she was, she had to wait 9 months to be assessed at a specialist eating disorder unit.

“I’m glad the government is finally doing something about this but I feel it also needs to apply to adults. An eating disorder is not just a young person’s illness. I waited 9 months to be referred onto a specialist eating disorder unit. Even though I was underweight, I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously enough because of my age,” she says.

As great as this announcement from the government is, we also need to start recognizing that eating disorders can affect not only adolescence but also adults. Eating disorders do not discriminate between sex, class, race or age. They can happen to anyone.

This post was published in The Huffington Post.

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