12 March 2022

The border needs a new eating disorder treatment and recovery facility

Helen Haines MP has joined with local survivors of eating disorders, and expert clinicians, to call for Government investment of $6 million to build a new treatment and recovery facility for people living with eating disorders in the Albury-Wodonga region.

The Independent Federal Member for Indi, a former nurse and midwife, said that over the last two years, she has heard increasing calls from constituents about the critical lack of services for people experiencing eating disorders who live in the border region.

“Eating disorders are complex and serious mental health conditions that affect people’s lives in profound ways. I have heard heartbreaking stories from local families about the lack of support here in Indi, Dr Haines said.

“We have seen the prevalence of eating disorders increasing during the COVID pandemic, especially among young people, but also affecting people of all backgrounds.”

“Right now, if you need treatment, you have to drive to Melbourne or Geelong,” Dr Haines said.

“That’s not good enough. We need facilities closer to home and that’s why Albury Wodonga needs an eating disorder recovery facility.”

“We need a physical centre, built right here on the border, that can do early intervention to help people when problems first arise, that has a team of dieticians, psychologists, and physios that people can see, and which has beds people can stay in for as long as they need, to get treatment when they really need it.”

Dr Haines said that in conjunction with local experts, she had developed a proposal for a new facility that would focus on early intervention, outpatient support, workforce and training, and residential rehabilitation.

This is one of the biggest gaps in our mental health system locally. We often talking about needing more mental health services – and this is a concrete project that would meet an urgent local need.

Wahgunyah resident Natasha Kirk said she had experienced huge difficulties accessing services when she suffered an eating disorder:

“Living rurally meant limited access and availability of services. It took years for me to be diagnosed and receive any kind of assistance. The timing of eating disorder treatment is crucial as it is very hard for the sufferer to reach out for help and if and when they do if the service is not readily accessible the opportunity is missed, and the eating disorder tightens it grip. Hence, I had many years of illness progression that led to a severe and enduring battle with anorexia.


“A local facility would reduce the physical, emotional, mental and financial cost to all involved and ultimately save lives. Travelling for care provides a monumental barrier for all involved. We need a facility that can provide care at every stage and facilitate the sufferer integrating back into their local community with a team-based approach and ongoing support at each stage of the illness.


“If I had the opportunity for early diagnosis and intervention my severe and enduring illness trajectory would have been reduced. Travelling for care and having to leave my children at home absolutely prolonged and exacerbated the immense and complex illness I was dealing with. Leaving my children to access further care was debilitating on every level.”


Associate Professor at La Trobe University Leah Brennan, who leads the Body Image, Eating and Weight Clinical Research Team said that the prevalence of eating disorders in the region had skyrocketed during the pandemic:

“If people with an eating disorder can access effective treatment as soon as possible after the onset of the eating disorder they have a very good chance of making a full recovery. Delayed access to treatment contributes to more severe and enduring illness with significant impacts on physical, mental and social well-being. 

“There are few eating disorder services available locally and these limited services can’t keep up with demand; their waiting lists continue to grow. As a result of the increased prevalence of eating disorders following covid restriction, city based services are also struggling to meet demand. So even those locals who are able to access city-based treatment are facing long delays. 

“Evidence based eating disorder treatments are both effective and cost effective. There is a desperate need for a comprehensive local service that provides timely access to evidence based treatment locally. Funding to support a comprehensive local eating disorder service has the potential to improve the quality of life and reduce the burden of disease for locals with eating disorders and their families.” 

Dr Haines said that the experiences of so many local families underscored the need for Federal investment in better local services.

“I am calling for the Government to fund a new $6 million eating disorder treatment and recovery centre on the Border. Right now, eating disorders are on the rise in our region, but we simply do not have the local services that people need.

“I have spent my life working in healthcare in our region, and I know that if we are going to end the health disparities between regional and metropolitan Australia, we need to match our rhetoric with action.”

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