‘Let Down by the system: Newry woman speaks out’ Part Two
We discussed many issues but one thing the Ciara was very determined to try and do was to dispel the many misconceptions about eating disorders, especially Anorexia. Ciara explained, “It is often a taboo subject, but people also tend to think that it’s a diet that’s gone too far or that it is attention seeking, when the reality is very far from that.” Ciara also explained that when it begins, it is about being able to maintain control over one particular aspect of your life, but soon it spirals beyond your control. Ciara continued, “At the start you are in control, but as you lose more weight and become malnourished you lose control. It’s like a voice of thoughts and feelings take over, it becomes a false friend.”
What Ciara really wants is for people to try and look beyond the illness and often the social stigma that is attached to it, and see the person struggling underneath. Every day is a battle, dominated by thoughts of when the next meal is, what it’s going to be and how many calories it will have. Food for so many of us is a source of pleasure; we use it to celebrate and as a source of enjoyment, but for Ciara it is a constant reminder that she is unwell.
Ciara has been robbed of her life, what it could have been had she not been ill. “I am afraid of what the future might hold for me.” Ciara will have long term health problems as a result of her illness, such as Osteoporosis and she is unsure if she will be able to have children. Aside from that, the illness has prevented her from exploring other opportunities, such as further education. Ciara says she would have liked to study for a degree but her illness prevented this.
After speaking to Ciara, Newry Times was very interested to hear what the local representatives had to say about her story and the treatment available for those who suffer from eating disorders. Dominic Bradley of the SDLP stated, “Those with Eating Disorders have complex needs and it is vital that the proper resources for treatment and care are available in Ireland, especially as these illnesses very often affect young people. It is not suitable or acceptable to expect young people to travel across the water for care and treatment. If anything, that only adds to the anxiety for the patient and must be off-putting for young sufferers.”
These sentiments were echoed by independent councillor Davy Hyland. He stated, “More money needs to be allocated towards providing the staff and resources to helping people suffering with these conditions. Problems of this type are continuing to get worse and they are not going to go away and this needs to be addressed immediately.”
Councillor William Irwin from the DUP was more positive about the treatment facilities and how they have been developed in recent years. “I am aware that since 2006, from a situation where there was basically no real provision, we now have a specialist eating disorder team in each of the Trust areas. Within the Belfast Trust area there is a core of specialists who provide expert advice and intervention measures right across the Province and also provide dietetics support for all the Trust areas. I think, whilst it may not be a vast service, it is certainly a major improvement on what was or rather wasn’t available only a few short years ago.”
However, Irwin expressed doubt over the likelihood of a dedicated facility being set up in the near future. “It must be noted that given the size of the population of Northern Ireland and what is without doubt a small inpatient client base, it would be unlikely that the Department could sustain a small, highly specialist inpatient regional unit.”
But Councillor Irwin also extended an invitation to Ciara to come and meet with him. He continued, “The important and valuable perspective of someone with an eating disorder is fully realised by those with decision making powers. That is vital in terms of directing the best services at the right time and with the right level of support.”
In response to Newry Times questions about the provision of services the Southern Health and Social Care Trust released a reply detailing the services available throughout the trust, such as the Outpatient Eating Disorder Service which is based in Trasna House, the Primary Mental Health Care Eating Disorder Service aimed at adults suffering from eating disorders but in relation to the Newry area confirmed that, “One Primary Mental Health Care Eating Disorder Practitioner works specifically with patients with a mild to moderate eating disorder in Newry and Mourne.” However, the Southern Trust did not mention any dedicated services for those with severe eating disorders in the Newry and Mourne area, which is a cause for concern.
Although Ciara’s story is shocking, she is not alone. There are thousands of people suffering from eating disorders in Northern Ireland and with the distinct lack of dedicated services, education or awareness, it is likely that many more people will suffer the same fate as Ciara; abandoned by the system and isolated by her illness.
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