Fine Gael Deputy Spokesman on Health and Children, Dan Neville TD, has today (Sunday) called on the Minister for Health to recognise that eating disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses with a 20% mortality rate and to implement a number of measures across a variety of areas to address these major problems.
“Eating disorders have the highest psychiatric mortality rate of any psychiatric condition. This fact was contained in The Expert Group on Mental Health Policy’s report ‘Speaking Your Mind’ and it is profoundly disappointing to say the least that the Government has completely neglected this area.
“Eating disorders are not self-inflicted. They are complex disorders that have no one cause or cure. Addressing the problem involves coordinated efforts from school education programmes, public awareness and health promotion activities, professional training for health professionals and access to service provision at community, primary and inpatient level.
“The figures surrounding eating disorders are profoundly worrying. Some 1% to 2% of young females are affected by anorexia while 3% to 5% are affected by bulimia. It is estimated that 10% of new eating disorder cases are male. A recent community survey indicated an increase in the number of people engaging in inappropriate weight management behaviours that can lead to eating disorders such as laxative abuse and forced vomiting. People with eating disorders can and do recover with 60% making a full recovery.
“Early intervention is the key to recovery. The Health Minister should immediately introduce training on the management of eating disorders in each of the former Health Board Areas. A dedicated service should be delivered through outpatient, and where necessary, in-patient care. There is a need for a person in each health board area who will have a special interest post in psychiatry dealing with eating disorders.
“The educational system needs to be utilised with a focus on greater self-esteem building work and development of coping skills. Messages on proper and healthy eating need to be addressed, and not get lost in the midst of more recent discussions on obesity.
“At present there is no specific public service for the management of eating disorder cases. Young people with eating disorders are admitted to medical wards, usually under gastroenterology, where staff are not trained or supported to treat them. The average stay is two and a half months during which time they require significant input from general nursing staff working on a busy medical ward. Given that the average age for the onset of an eating disorder varies form 14 for anorexia to 17 for bulimia, the paucity of child and adolescent services results in many young people going untreated and many others remaining undiagnosed.
“There are proven benefits to a separate system of youth psychiatry that provides interventions tailored to the unique needs and developmental stages of young people. Investing in the mental health of children and adolescents represents the most cost-effective method to prevent the continuous increase of mental health problems in all age groups. Despite this, none of the three public child and adolescent services in Ireland has the appropriate range and number of staff.”