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Increasing funding to improve outcomes for eating disorders

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The Federal Budget allocated $80 million for Australians with a mental illness such as severe depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia and post-natal depression resulting in a psychosocial disability, including those who had been at risk of losing their services during the transition to the NDIS.

The Government also announced it will provide $9.1 million over four years to improve access to psychological services through telehealth in regional, rural and remote Australia.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has also freshly announced that eating disorders will be included in the 5th Mental Health Plan and that the current Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce investigate Medicare coverage for the treatment of those with an eating disorder.

The National Mental Health Commission described the funding announcement as timely.

“Timely that eating disorders will be recognised officially as serious and complex mental illnesses with serious physical consequences,” said the Commission’s chief executive Peggy Brown.

The Butterfly Foundation, which is the country’s peak support organisation for people with conditions such as anorexia and bulimia, says that the current health system is failing people with an eating disorder.

Its chief executive, David Murray, said: “Too many times in the past 12 months Butterfly staff have sat vigil with families as the health system has failed.”

“When suicide is up to 31 times more likely to occur for someone with an eating disorder, clearly the Government should address this problem with a dedicated focus.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC), an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Health, more than 1 million Australians suffer from eating disorders and represent the third most common chronic illness for young females.

The NEDC also cites research that shows anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness and carry a very high rates of mortality with one in 10 people who suffer from an eating disorder dead within 10 years.

Deaths associated with eating disorders are typically caused by medical complications (such as cardiovascular issues and multiple organ failure), suicide or complications relating to substance use.

A 2012 Deloitte Access Economics report examined the economic and social impact of eating disorders in Australia and found the total socio economic cost of eating disorders to be $69.7 billion per year.  These costs can be reduced with early detection.

The Australian Medical Association believes that a greater focus is needed on ensuring appropriate access to early intervention and treatment services for young people especially in rural and remote locations.  The AMA also believes that a nationally coordinated approach is necessary in order to develop effective and consistent practices in preventing and addressing the incidence of unhealthy body image and eating disorders. 

If this article has raised concerns about eating disorders, please contact the Butterfly Foundation national hotline on 1800 33 4673; or visit www.thebutterflyfoundation.org.au for support and resources for eating disorder sufferers and their families and carers.

Meredith Horne