Andrea Clifford has been looking through her daughter’s room for a special doll she can’t find. It belonged to 15-year-old Brieanne Christou, who took her own life on Family Day after battling an eating disorder in and out of hospital.
Her mom says Brieanne would start hospital treatment, but if she refused a meal they would kick her out.
“She was admitted because she’s not eating, but now she’s being sent home because she’s not eating,” Clifford said. “It just didn’t make sense.”
Only one place ever made a difference — the Youth Eating Disorders Unit at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences.
It has a dozen beds and is the sole treatment centre of its kind in Canada, for kids in crisis who have already been through hospital eating disorder programs and not recovered.
At Ontario Shores, patients don’t get sent home out if they trip up.
“We go back and figure out what went wrong and keep working on it,” explained Dr. Leora Pinhas, head physicians for the Eating Disorder Unit at Ontario Shores.
She said their approach is to work with kids and their families collaboratively, as opposed to a cookie cutter approach.
“We have treatment programs in Ontario that are still doing the same things they were doing 20 to 25 years ago,” said Pinhas. “There’s absolute injustice in the system.”
She believes it is because eating disorders are stigmatized and the patients are considered “difficult” and there’s still a perception they have control over what they are doing to themselves.
That perception is even held among many psychiatrists, who can graduate without any exposure to eating disorders.
“Eating disorders are the only significant group of disorders that is not addressed in any formal way,” said Pinhas, adding that there is very little research funding and even money the government designates to hospitals for youth mental health doesn’t necessarily always help.
“None of the centres that get the money ever put any money towards eating disorders.”
Global News asked Ontario Minister of Health Eric Hoskins how his ministry ensures money sent to hospitals gets to eating disorders programs.
The answer was puzzling.
“It’s a new program that we were involved in setting up, the ministry was,” Hoskins said.
“We know that this is a priority for Ontarians.”
Pinhas said it’s time to move forward.
“We have to actually address what I would call the systemic and endemic discrimination,” she said, adding that the starting point is accountability.
“We have to hold the people we give our tax dollars to accountable,” Clifford said, adding that although Ontario Shores truly helped Brieanne, after everything else she had been through it was just too late.
“I’ve been told we’re lucky to be getting the help that we did because of the waiting lists for everything is so long, but when it is not enough you still can’t appreciate it.”