Quebecers could wait up to a year for eating disorder treatment

Eating disorder file photo illustration. Getty Images

Lise-Andrée Massé says it took eight years for her to recover from her eating disorder – but it could have been much longer if she was forced to wait for help in the public system.

After moving to Montreal from Abitibi to study arts in CEGEP, she developed anorexia — becoming obsessed with her weight and wanting to look thinner.

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Massé says she constantly compared herself to her new roommate, whom she claims was much thinner than her.

She started working out extensively, saying her body became her main focus and she severely restricted food intake. She recalls her goal was to weigh 100 pounds.

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Soon after, she developed bulimia.

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Massé remembers stealing food from her roommate to make a caramel-like mix out of heavy cream, butter and sugar. She recalls buying three large bags of chips, a frozen cheesecake, candy, Oreo ice cream and other comfort foods.

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“It was like I turned on the switch and it was OK to eat. I didn’t care because after, I was going to make myself vomit anyway,” Massé tells Global News.

“But that created a problem, because the fact that I would vomit would give me permission to do it again.”

Three years after first developing her eating disorder, Massé says she was sitting at a bus stop on her way back from school — and that’s when she realized something needed to change.

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She was 20.

Lise-Andrée Massé poses for a photo. Lise-Andrée Massé
“I felt that I was going to faint, so I told myself I had to eat. There was a dépanneur [corner store], but I could barely get up,” Massé said.
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“My only alternative was to beg for food. People thought I was a drug addict. I was sweating, dizzy and I looked sick.”

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“I had lost all sense of logic. … Someone offered me help, but I refused. I cried all the way home. That’s when I said, ‘OK, that’s enough.’”

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She sought help, but because she was over 18 years old, she was not admitted to Sainte-Justine’s eating disorder clinic, which accepts teenagers aged 12 to 18.

She then turned to the Douglas Institute in Montreal, but says she was told she did not meet all the criteria for anorexia to be admitted right away; she would have to wait nine months for therapy.

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The severity of a patient’s condition is evaluated based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which offers standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders.

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The Body Mass Index (BMI) is also taken in consideration during the initial triage process. In Massé’s case, her BMI was too high to be considered anorexic.

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“It’s too long. If you have to wait nine months to get help, you have time to lose even more weight or commit suicide,” Massé told Global News.

Waiting for treatment

According to Mélanie Guénette-Robert, who works in education and prevention at Anorexia and Bulimia Quebec (ANEB), people who suffer from eating disorders have a higher risk of committing suicide and developing depression.

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Massé says she knew she could not wait and instead, went to a private clinic to seek treatment; her parents had to pay between $300 and $400 per week for psychological and nutrition consultations, as well as group meetings.

Guénette-Robert admits it is not uncommon for patients to wait up to a year for services.

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During that time, ANEB provides free support systems, like online chats and group meetings, from its office in Pointe-Claire, in Montreal’s West Island.

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For many patients, Guénette-Robert says private clinics are out of reach. She explains 51 per cent of people taking part in the free support groups make less than $35,000 per year.

“It’s very discouraging,” Massé said. “If you don’t have money or if your parents can’t pay, it’s expensive.”

Dr. Howard Steiger, eating disorder program chief at the Douglas Institute, explains after an evaluation by phone, patients who are considered “very vulnerable” are admitted immediately, but says it can take up to six months for people who are considered “stable.”

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“I wasn’t diagnosed with anorexia because I didn’t meet all the criteria, but it didn’t take away from the fact that I wasn’t eating anymore,” Massé tells Global News.

Steiger insists the institute is now collaborating with hospitals and CLSCs across 15 regions in Quebec to provide accessible resources for patients in rural areas in the hopes of unblocking the system.

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Massé says she has fully recovered and now works as a nutritionist to help people with eating disorders learn how to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

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Nevertheless, she argues there is still much to be done to reduce wait times so people with eating disorders get the support they need — as fast as possible.

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