THE BLOG

Don't Keep Us Waiting...Before It's Too Late

20/10/2014 13:37 BST | Updated 17/12/2014 10:59 GMT

On October 22nd, b-eat the UK's leading eating disorder awareness charity are holding a memorial service in Norwich Cathedral for all the lives that have been tragically lost to eating disorders.

Eating disorders carry the highest mortality rate of all mental illness, with 1 in 5 sufferers dying from complications associated with their illness, or through suicide.

Every life lost to an eating disorder is 1 too many; especially when it could have been prevented.

Exactly a year ago, I sat, anxiously waiting in a hospital waiting area. I had been referred to the adult eating disorder service for an assessment, and despite previous inpatient treatment and therapy I had experienced a deterioration of my eating disorder and desperately needed support to get back on track.

I had waited almost a year for the assessment and for once I wasn't anxious about getting help, I was worried about not getting help.

I wanted to recover. I had suffered for too long with my eating disorder. It is a disabling illness which takes so much from a person's life. I wanted my life, I wanted to live.

I spoke with the specialist for nearly two hours, (in the fortunate position that he knew my past experiences well, having worked in a hospital where I had previously been admitted).

We talked about my current struggles, reviewed my physical health and my weight.

And exactly a year ago, the specialist I saw turned to me and said that "unfortunately I did not meet the very strict criteria the trust had for treatment". Yep, not even outpatient treatment.

I was assessed on my presenting physical symptoms, which is what the NHS criteria is based on, and is something I have challenged since. My eating disorder affects me mentally as well as physically and the implications mentally are often more significant.

A report by Rethink Mental Illness and the London School of Economics notes that for every £1 spent on early intervention in mental health £15 would be saved.

When we consider the cost implications physically to a person with an eating disorder, osteoporosis or cardiac problems may lead to life-long medicating if left too long, and inpatient care costs significantly more than outpatient care.

However, there are also costs to a person's life to factor in. A person admitted to an inpatient ward may have to give up school, their house and /or their job. Not intervening early may be the difference between a family staying together, and it may even be a life saver.

I was fortunate that my parents have been able to fund private outpatient support this past year which has helped me progress and stabilise. However, not everyone is that fortunate, and in some cases lack of early intervention can be fatal.

In eating disorders 1 in 5 will die prematurely from physical complications associated with their illness or from suicide.

Recent research from the We Need to Talk coalition indicated that 1 in 6 committed suicide whilst on NHS waiting lists, and 2 in 3 people experienced a deterioration of their conditions. Mine did, and I ended up in hospital as a result. Twice.

But I ask, why are patients waiting so long for treatment, and why is the service designed for when patients are at crisis, not to prevent one from happening?It takes tremendous courage to not only admit you have a mental health problem, but to attend an appointment for treatment. To then wait months for treatment and to be told that your condition is not severe enough is unacceptable.

But there is a further bizarre rationale in place. Because patients are being treated only at the point that they are critical, they are unable to engage in therapy and many specialist services won't start group therapy or individual therapy until the patient has reached a certain point in recovery, by which point, their bed will be needed by the next critical person and they are discharged.

With mental health services well beyond capacity, a significant rethink is needed in order to provide real early intervention and significant progress in treatment and outcome.

Furthermore, in times of austerity, services are having to make cuts and to think carefully about how they will spend what little money they do have at a time where there is an increase of patients trying to access services because of austerity.

I'm excited about a pilot that is being carried out at SLAM which is an early intervention programme with eating disorders and the first of it's kind. The NHS needs more interventions like this to be able to demonstrate programmes that work, complementing research into early intervention.

It is unacceptable that people are dying from mental illnesses, illnesses which could have been prevented, because there was no help available when it was needed.

With 1 in 4 people affected by mental illnesses, we drastically need to change the mentally, that mental health problems can't wait a year or so and they'll be fixed. We need to #endthewait and end it now.

You can find out more about my campaign for on early intervention in eating disorders and better access to treatment with Fixers UK.

Alternatively tweet my film to #endthewait or let your MP know!