Australia’s only eating disorder specific support service, ED Hope, is looking into a bleak future under the Federal Government’s plan to shake-up online mental health services.
The Butterfly Foundation, who work tirelessly to support and raise awareness for Australians suffering eating disorders, have only 12 months of guaranteed funding left for their helpline, which assists over 1,000 people each month.
The email, telephone, and web-chat service, which costs $700,000 annually, will be streamlined into a centralized online “gateway” as part of a restructure of the nation’s mental health system, the ABC reports.
However, just like any other mental illness, patients suffering eating disorders require specific support. You cannot simply reach into a bag of general mental health solutions, pull one out, and hope it fits the individual. With over one million Australians currently living with an eating disorder, and a 20% mortality rate, the stakes are far too high to be playing lucky dip with people’s lives.
Christine Morgan, chief executive of The Butterfly Foundation, stressed the importance of supplying dedicated care, telling news.com.au that the trained operators “provide very solid counselling services. People aren’t just ringing up for information or a referral. It’s not a crisis line, but they can be at a point of crisis when they ring.”
A centralized mental health portal may be useful in some cases, but experts are adamant about the importance of specialised services. Morgan is calling for the government to boost funding to the hotline, which can currently only operate 13 hours per day, 5 days per week, to allow for 24/7 capacity.
Liz Scott, a psychiatrist at St Vincent’s Hospital, points out the dismissive attitude that is disappointingly prevalent in the discussion of mental health treatment.
“If this was something like cancer affecting young people, we wouldn’t be saying, ‘well let’s take away the phone support line’ or ‘let’s withdraw services’. There would be a major community outcry’.”
The proposed restructure is a palpable example of the mental health stigma that sits heavily on our culture’s shoulders. This stigma creates a hostile environment for those already vulnerable to their own mind, effectively lowering self-esteem and encouraging feelings of shame. This shame is what hold individuals 78% of mental illness sufferers from seeking help.
This is not a new issue, nor a just a local one, however. Deep rooted fear and aversion towards mental health issues made roots in our collective psyche long ago. According to the UK’s Centre for Social Justice, “For many centuries, people with mental health problems were literally ‘out of sight and out of mind’. The phrase ‘round the bend’ is derived from the days when the asylums, built in Victorian times, had a bend in the entrance drive so that they couldn’t be seen from a distance.”
The problem in our culture runs beyond the funding cuts to The Butterfly Foundation and a further 20 mental health groups, beyond the scarcity of specialist services in regional areas, and beyond the lack of desire for education. It comes down to the dehumanisation of people with ailments that are not overtly visible, and the woeful antipathy faced by those who reach for assistance.
We cannot live under the guise of a progressive society, content in our basic elimination of outdated psychiatric slurs, while we still deny 1 in 5 humans basic validation. This is not a silent issue by choice, there is an unconscious gag order placed on those suffering, and they have truly suffered enough.