Lengthy wait times for eating disorder treatment have to stop. Canadian Ary Maharaj explains why we cannot afford to wait in addressing the urgent need for early identification and intervention.
With an estimated one million Canadians struggling with eating disorders, and millions more around the world, we simply can’t afford to wait in advancing awareness and treatment for eating disorders. During this year’s annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW), February 1-7 in Canada, eating disorder organizations united with a national week of action focused on educating the public about why eating disorders can’t afford to wait.
EDAW gives our Canadian community a chance to work together to escalate awareness of the impact of eating disorders, the dangerous stereotypes and myths that surround them, and the supports available for people living with or affected by them.
The staggering statistics surrounding this mental illness clearly reflect such need and urgency:
- Eating disorder support services and treatment centers are largely non-existent in remote and rural communities across Canada, a pattern that is likely repeated worldwide (Committee Report on the Status of Women, 2014).
- 70 per cent of doctors receive <5 hours of eating-disorder specific training while in medical school, and only 6.3 per cent psychiatry residents felt like they had spent enough time with patients who had eating disorders to work effectively with them in clinical practice (Girz et al. 2014; Williams & Leichner, 2006).
- 40 per cent of Canadians mistakenly believe that eating disorders are a choice (NEDIC, 2015)
Eating disorders do not discriminate – they can develop in all genders, ages, racial and ethnic identities, sexual orientations and socio-economic backgrounds. With millions of Canadians experiencing the devastating impact of eating disorders, the funding and treatment of eating disorders can no longer be put on hold.
By educating the public about the impact of eating disorders and illuminating the tremendous gaps in funding and services, the ultimate goal is to motivate decision makers in positions of influence to provide, among other things, better and more affordable prevention and treatment options, enhanced training for professionals and greater support for caregivers.
Our campaigning resulted in the following:
- Political proclamations in seven of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, along with 74 municipal proclamations from local governments
- Over 35 local events, programs, special ceremonies, and discussions in nine provinces and territories
- Our social media campaigns, #showusyourpurple and #EDAW2019, were mentioned more than 3000 times on Instagram and Twitter
While it’s important that we take time to celebrate our successes as a community, we are also acutely aware of the fact that our work will never be done, and we’re always striving to improve. We will now pivot to expanding on how we got to this point as a country, with the hope that this will be useful for our international colleagues.
The process of collaboration
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) has taken pride as the national coordinator of EDAW since 1988. With a vibrant eating disorder community that is 25+ community organizations strong, we believe that the more collaborative we are, the more we can achieve. For us, collaboration starts at the beginning of the process.
Every summer, we send an email out to a national mailing list of eating disorder organizers, advocates, and people with lived experience. We ask questions about what the year’s EDAW theme should be, compile the choices, and vote together on the final option in a democratic manner.
Eating Disorders Can’t Afford to Wait was nominated by our colleague, Lori Peters and her team from the Women’s Health Clinic in Manitoba, and was chosen because it encompasses the importance of early identification and intervention, while capturing the reality of the lengthy wait times for treatment that exist in our country.
As 2019 is an election year, the Canadian eating disorder community found it fitting to steer the conversation toward advocacy, escalating awareness of the impact – both human and financial – of eating disorders. This theme best represented our various intersections, from education, treatment, research, and policy.
From vision to mobilizing a nation
From here, work began on the execution of our vision. NEDIC enlisted a champion from each province and territory to take the lead on ensuring our national communications trickled down to local communities, and put out a call for members of a steering committee to create this year’s messaging and materials. We worked to ensure that we were representative of the various eating disorder groups from across our vast country, as we believed that operating as a collective gave us the best chance to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s truly concerning to Canadians about eating disorders.
Ultimately, our key message highlighted the statistic mentioned at the beginning of this blog: one million Canadians struggle with eating disorders, which is almost the entire population of Saskatchewan. Talking about eating disorder prevalence through a statement visual familiar to many Canadians hits home on a human level that a 3 per cent prevalence rate doesn’t quite capture. We want Canadians – and the world – to know that eating disorders are important; that they need a place at the broader table in terms of discussions about mental health and illness; and that they can’t afford to wait.
Thank you for being on our team
We are so thankful for all the organizations we collaborated with, all of the governments that proclaimed EDAW in their provinces or local communities, and to any individual reading this for participating in a way that felt true to you. Eating disorders can affect anyone, and we continue to work every day to provide information, support, and resources to people affected, while working to educate the public to dismantle the stigma and prevent eating disorders from developing in the first place. Thank you for being on our team – we look forward to your continued support to cultivate positive and meaningful change!
About the National Eating Disorder Information Centre
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) is a registered Canadian charity that has been helping Canadians affected by eating disorders since 1985. We operate Canada’s only national toll-free helpline and instant chat program which provides support, information and referrals to individuals struggling with food and weight preoccupation issues, as well as the families, friends, and professionals who care for them. With a focus on eating disorder risk factors, NEDIC delivers prevention-focused workshops to diverse audiences and facilitates professional development through our outreach and education program. You can visit the NEDIC at www.nedic.ca to access services and learn more!
This year’s EDAW content, which you can find on www.nedic.ca/EDAW, was created through collective effort with organizations across the country. The steering committee was led by a partnership of NEDIC, the National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED), the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Body Brave, and the Looking Glass Foundation.
Girz, L., Lafrance Robinson, A. and Tessier C. (2014). Is the Next Generation of Physicians Adequately Prepared to Diagnose and Treat Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents? Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention. DOI:10.1080/10640266.2014.915692 View PDF
Williams, M., & Leichner, P. (2006). More training needed in eating disorders: A time cohort comparison study of Canadian psychiatry residents. Eating Disorders, 14(4), 323-334.
About World Eating Disorders Action Day 2019
This year grassroots activists, volunteers, and over 250 organizations in 40+ countries are calling for caregivers to receive support, health care workers to be properly trained, and access to immediate, evidence-based treatment.
Why We Can’t Afford to Wait
- Worldwide over 70 million people are estimated to be affected by an eating disorder,
- Eating disorders have the HIGHEST MORTALITY RATE of any psychiatric illness
- Eating disorders affect people of all genders, sexual orientations, ages, socioeconomic class, abilities, races, and ethnic backgrounds. It is time to take action.
- Good news! When treated EARLY and correctly, eating disorders have the highest and fastest recovery rate!
How to support World Eating Disorders Action Day, June 2, 2019
- Join the movement, show your purple on social media! Use hashtag #ShowUsYourPurple
- Follow conversation on social media. Use hashtags #ShowUsYourPurple #WeDoActNow
- Host or attend an event. See http://www.worldeatingdisordersday.org/2019-events-2/
- Donate. To support the work see http://www.worldeatingdisordersday.org/get-involved/participating-organisations/.
- Discuss eating disorders. Through open, supportive dialogue, we can create change.
E-book release: Come as you are, eating disorders can’t wait
As a Participating Organisation supporting 2019 World Eating Disorder Action Day, The Diary Healerhas released a new ebook, . Stories from around the world illustrate that recovery from an eating disorder IS possible, at every age. The first step, is to seek help. to purchase a copy for $9.97 (AUD) – all profits support eating disorder services.
Ary Maharaj, M.Ed., RP (Qualifying), is an active researcher, burgeoning policy-maker, and practicing mental health therapist. He currently works as Outreach and Education Coordinator at the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, striving to take a preventative, proactive approach to helping people with their relationship with food and weight, while buffering them from developing an eating disorder. He lives with mental health challenges himself, and is an active caregiver for family members and friends experiencing difficulties. In the past, he helped co-found a for-student, by-student community mental health magazine, and is a sports journalist in another life. An avid traveler, Ary’s work has led him around the world, and he constantly aims to explore how we can embed empathy to create empowering environments.