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Eating disorder one-on-one support thanks to new funding

Up to 12 people across Nova Scotia will be trained between early January and March

Young Nova Scotians seeking treatment for eating disorders may soon have access to one-on-one peer support thanks to new funding. 

The Dartmouth-based Self Help Connection will use $15,000 from the Medavie Health Foundation (funded by Medavie Blue Cross and Medavie EMS) to train up to a dozen people in Nova Scotia to fill those roles. 

The money will be used to "develop training that's specifically designed for folks who have recovered from an eating disorder to provide mentorship and support for those who are really new to the recovery process," said Shaleen Jones, who co-ordinates Self Help Connection’s support groups for eating disorders.

Up to 12 people across Nova Scotia will be trained between early January and March, at which point the program will need continued funding to operate.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the number of women admitted to hospital emergency rooms because of eating disorders tripled between 2010 and 2013 in Nova Scotia, jumping from 11 to 44. 

For Emily Coolen, a third-year kinesiology student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, one-on-one peer support was the resource that was missing at the time she was undergoing treatment for anorexia between 2009-2013.

Coolen wanted to get insight into her own mental illness and recovery from someone who had shared a similar experience — someone to tell her, "here's what worked for me," she said.

"This isn't what the books are saying, this isn't what the science is saying this isn't what … this guy who's never had an eating disorder who's interested in psychology has researched. This is what someone who's been through it has done and it's gotten them on the other side."

Coolen, now 20 years old,  has been out of treatment for nearly two years and is healthy. While she’s hopeful one-on-one peer support will help other people with eating disorders, it’s just one small part of a much bigger picture. And that picture is not just worrisome for her.

Most fatal mental illness in Canada

According to a parliamentary report released in November, eating disorders are the most fatal mental illness in Canada. Ten per cent of people with eating disorders die within 10 years after they’re diagnosed. Often, these deaths are attributed to the final health issue that resulted in death, other times it's suicide.

"We don't have really good Canadian data," said Jones.

While many of the report’s testimonials are grim, some medical professionals cited also pointed at more accessible treatment as an easy way to make eating disorders less deadly — treated, anorexia could have a 65 to 70 per cent recovery rate; bulimia, 70 to 80 per cent.

Along with the statistics, the report recommends dozens of ways Canada could improve awareness and treatment of eating disorders, including rethinking anti-obesity campaigns, decreasing wait times to access eating disorder treatments and awareness about eating disorders.

A lot of suggestions, but no action plan, according to critics, including Jones.

"The report has a lot of, you know, 'shoulds' and 'encourage' and 'recommends,' so it doesn't have a lot of teeth and there's been no funding allocated to eating disorders," said Jones, who works closely with the medical professionals in Halifax.

"In Nova Scotia we could be a real leader in implementing the recommendations from this report."