Ask any family suffering with eating disorders, and they will tell you recovery is often one step forward and then one step backward.
Brad Pierce’s son was first treated for anorexia nervosa when he was 18 years old, spending weeks at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.
“It’s extremely tough. It’s an illness that is hard to understand and hard to get effective treatment for, especially if you’re a male,” Pierce said.
“It’s not a teenage girl, adolescent body image issue. It’s more rooted in anxiety and personal self-worth than it is in any of those body image issues.”
It’s been a similar journey for Jim Hall. His 18-year-old daughter has been in and out of the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary and the Foothills Medical Centre over the past five years.
The two dads with common bonds are now training to do a 47-kilometre run up and down the vast chasm of Arizona’s Grand Canyon this Saturday, April 25. The feat is part of a fundraiser to build a residential treatment centre for Albertans with eating disorders.
Hall says the Grand Canyon is a good metaphor for the disease itself.
“The climb out is very difficult, much like climbing out of the Grand Canyon. In our case, we are going across and back twice, and that is often what happens with people with eating disorders. They don’t just get out of the hole they are in, they often go back down again and have to climb out several times.”
Alberta Health Services provides an eating disorder program that involves stays at the Foothills Medical Centre until the patient becomes medically stable. However, families say long-term treatment after the hospital stays is lacking.
“So they are very good at dealing with the physical symptoms. Calgary hospitals do a wonderful job with that, but they are not particularly well set up to deal with the mental part, which for us is been a very long journey,” Hall said. “Residential treatment has been shown elsewhere to be a very effective long-term way to help people with eating disorders. We can treat patients in hospitals for the physical part of it, but the mental part, that’s a long journey and sometimes people need to be in intensive treatment which means being in a residence.”
With no residential treatment program available in Calgary, many families have struggled to find care, with some patients going for help in the U.S.
Hall and Pierce are working with the Calgary Silver Linings Foundation, which is the only charity in Alberta working towards the establishment of a fully trained residential treatment centre in southern Alberta. Their goal is to have a facility in Alberta for people suffering from eating disorders within the next three to five years.
A statement from Alberta Health Services said help is “available for individuals who may have an eating disorder and their families which include: education, resources, consultation with a health care professional and referral to additional support.”
“A majority of eating disorders can be successfully treated and managed with community-based care or mental health programs.”