Calls from Tasmanians to the Butterfly Foundation Have Tripled During the Pandemic

Butterfly Foundation is the national charity for all Australians impacted by eating disorders and body image issues. Since the beginning of the year, the number of calls from residents in Tasmania to the Butterfly Foundation have tripled, the ABC has reported.

“People being at home unable to visit their support face to face, not being able to see friends and family, their psychiatrists, dietitians, psychologists face to face, has really affected people’s recovery,” Georgina Taskunas, eating disorders coordinator for the Butterfly Foundation in Hobart, said.

According to Tasmania’s Health Department, there has also been an increase in mental health-related presentations in hospitals across the state. Those living with eating disorders in Tasmania that are deemed non-urgent are forced to wait up to six weeks for an initial appointment. Acute conditions, on the other hand, are sent straight to emergency departments.

Isolation coupled with panic buying has created a stressful environment and those “suffering an eating disorder have really struggled with their routines being upset,” Taskunas said. “Gyms closing, supermarkets not having familiar brands, it’s all caused extra stress.”

New data from InsideOut — the national eating disorders research institute — shows that the pandemic has put a particular strain on people living with eating disorders. InsideOut surveyed 2,000 people and tracked their symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The results showed that the health crisis was exacerbating almost all of the most common behaviours in eating disorders including restriction, body image concerns, exercise and purging.

“In almost every marker of severity of an eating disorder we’ve seen a majority of people reporting that the pandemic has had a negative impact,” Dr Maguire told the ABC.

According to Dr Maguire, long waiting lists for treatment are extremely damaging for a person with an eating disorder — especially if they are at a “critical point in their illness.” Services for eating disorders, particularly in Tasmania, need to be more plentiful.

“Sadly, wait lists when you’re waiting for critical treatment for an eating disorder are not uncommon in our country,” Dr Maguire said. “It certainly would be very important for families and people that have eating disorders in Tasmania for them to see other services develop so they have an appropriate response regardless of their age, regardless of their gender, regardless of their geography.”

“When you don’t have services available, you’re going to have people whose illness is allowed to progress without any input, and given all available evidence, are going to have worse outcomes.”

In a statement to the ABC, the Tasmanian Government said that $104 million has been invested in mental health in the last six years. It is also spending nearly $500,000 to employ support workers for those with eating disorders. The Federal Government has also allocated $10 million for a residential facility for people with eating disorders in Hobart but it is unclear when this will open.

If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can call the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here.

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