My name is Jacinta Agostinelli and I convene a support group for families and carers of young people with an Eating Disorder in the northern suburbs of Melbourne (NEaDS – Northern Eating Disorders Support Group). I also chair the Carer and Consumer Advisory Group at the Austin Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
Holding these two positions meant I was well placed to suggest an event that would support those affected by Eating Disorders in the local area. The suggestion became a well attended forum at the Austin Hospital on May 10th which was co-sponsored by Austin CAMHS, NEaDS, and the Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria (EDFV). Dr Rick Kausman, who is the Australian Medical Association spokesperson on weight management and eating behaviour, was the keynote speaker. Two parents from NEaDS spoke about their experiences parenting a young person with an Eating Disorder and two people who have recovered from an Eating Disorder related their journeys through recovery. The evening concluded with a brief presentation by Frances Sanders from the EDFV outlining its services, followed by an address from Dr Neil Coventry, Director of Austin CAMHS.
Rick Kausman is an entertaining, warm and articulate speaker. His presentation around developing a healthy psychology towards eating was helpful for those struggling with obesity as well as for those in various stages of an Eating Disorder. One would think that obesity and eating disorders might seem to be in opposition to each other, however Rick Kausman has created a psychology of eating that allows the two issues to be addressed simultaneously. He demonstrated how the language we use about food is harmful. When we talk about food being good or bad we give it a moral value, when food itself is neutral. To remove the moral value we place on food we can change our language so that we use the terms sometimes food and always food, in place of ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food. When we give food a moral value we ourselves become good or bad depending on what we eat; we eat fast to reduce our guilt from eating ‘bad’ food and fast eating generally results in eating more. The psychological equation becomes more and more complex. Food marketing companies reinforce the idea that food has moral value, then exploit people’s fears and guilt when they eat ‘bad’ food. We end up with advertisements where yoghurt is labelled as 98% guilt free, chocolate as obscene.
Another major question raised by Rick was ‘why is it that a model in our society makes millions of dollars while our teachers, social workers and childcare workers earn a pittance?’ What does this say about our society’s values? He is right – I am a teacher and have often asked that question.
To give us courage in the fight against disordered eating and body image Rick showed a slide of Marilyn Munroe in her younger days, flaunting a roll of stomach fat and bountiful thigh. Neither she nor the camera needed to hide what was naturally there. And this was only fifty years ago. Given that civilization is thousands of years old it’s not impossible, says Rick, to undo fifty of them.
Following Rick’s talk we heard of the courage, learning and growth that occurs when a person or a family member suffers from an Eating Disorder. No-one but the person and the family themselves can know or understand what this experience is like. I think it is humbling for health professionals to hear these stories and it is important that they can hear them with their non-clinical ear. It is important that the general public hears these stories so that they too can be a part of the fight against Eating Disorders. It is important that other families and sufferers in the early or more intense stages of an Eating Disorder can hear these stories so they can be strengthened to continue their own fight. Perhaps the recurring message from sufferers was that they recovered because those around them – family, friends and professionals – did not give up on them. And from the mothers who spoke the recurring message was the need for support – from family, friends and professionals – so that they didn’t give up.
Both Frances Sanders and Dr Neil Coventry gave us hope in the professional treatment of Eating Disorders. The EDFV is implementing support and educational programs across the community. Representing the public hospital perspective, Neil indicated that professional attitudes and approaches are changing and that in the future families can expect treatment that is more humane and inclusive.
On all fronts, it seems, the battle against Eating Disorders is slowly being won.
MHYF Vic Committee Member
Senate Select Committee on Mental Health
The Senate Select Committee on Mental Health was appointed on 8 March 2005 to inquire into and report on the provision of mental health services in Australia.
Public hearings to this committee were held around Australia during 2005 and the committee heard submissions from a large number of witnesses. There were also a large number of personal submissions (559) which were sent to the Committee.
The first report of the Committee was delivered on 30 March 2006 and is available on the following website:
Of particular interest to MHYF Vic members is Chapter 15: Services for Children & Youth, Older People and CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) communities.
The main points made in this chapter were:
Access issues/lack of services.
The lack of a plan for addressing Child and Adolescent Mental Health in the National Mental Heath Plan 2003-2008. AICAFMHA’s submission regarding this document is extensively quoted in the report.
The absence of transition frameworks for children moving between service tiers and moving into adult streams.
– The need for greater co-ordination and co-operation within an interagency framework.
Unfortunately Chapter 11: Families and Carers has no specific discussion regarding parents of children/adolescence using mental health services.
MHYF Vic Committee Member
Mental Health for the Young & their Families in Victoria is a collaborative partnership between mental health & other health professionals, service users & the general public.
PO Box 206,
Parkville, Vic 3052