Albertans with eating disorders ‘not sick enough’ for hospital admission

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Albertans with eating disorders ‘not sick enough’ for hospital admission
A new study released by an Alberta eating disorder support group shows that youth and parents don't know where to go if they are “not sick enough” to be admitted to the hospital when it comes to eating disorders. Carolyn Kury de Castillo has more on a Calgary mother who is speaking out about the devastating impact of watching the disease progress in her two daughters – Feb 6, 2023

A study released by an Alberta eating disorder support group shows that youth and parents do not know where to go if they are “not sick enough” to be admitted to the hospital.

Rhonda Harris has two daughters with eating disorders. Like other parents faced with the complex disease, she encounters daily struggles with her kids and tries to get them help.

“I was in complete shock. I had no idea what to do,” Harris said from her Calgary home. “It was like a tsunami — utter and sheer devastation that drops into your life and everything is immediately uprooted.”

Both her daughters were treated at the Foothills Medical Centre, but it was the wait to access treatment there Harris says was inexcusable.

“Why we would make someone who is already vulnerable suffer so much to the level of, you have to be sick enough so that you are almost dying to get into the hospital. The long-term compromise that it does for someone and the fact that it allows the illness to progress even further — for these tentacles to reach in and strangle further the life out of this person,” Harris said.

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A recent survey of families and clinicians released by the Calgary Silver Linings Foundation indicated that youth are either not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital or too sick to access day programs.

“They sometimes get referred to certain programs and there’s usually wait lists or they’re being told they are not sick enough to get into the hospital so families are swirling around looking for help and that was probably one of the biggest findings of the study,” said Marlies van Dijk, executive director of the Silver Linings Foundation.

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“The complexity of the disease sort of prevented better care. So this project was very much about trying to describe what’s the current state and what do we do to make it better?” van Dijk said.

Harris said her daughters had to meet medical criteria to get on the list for treatment in Calgary. She said more resources are needed to make sure people suffering from the disease are able to get treatment as soon as they are ready to accept help.

“Once it comes out, we need to meet that person as soon as they are ready, not put them on a list. To live like that for months and years is horrific. To be wondering, will we get in before she dies? Will we make it before before the heart attack happens?” Harris said.

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“These are progressive illnesses. They start as little tiny seeds, and they build and build, and the longer they are not treated, the worse they are for long-term effects. It’s devastating.”

The Silver Linings Foundation is advocating for more resources, community support and a more holistic approach to the deadly disease.

“There’s no easy quick answers. The average length of time for recovery is eight years,” van Dijk said.

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) is Feb. 1–7, 2023.

van Dijk said raising awareness is more important than ever because of the sweeping mental health repercussions of COVID-19.

Alberta Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Nicholas Milliken issued a statement on Eating Disorders Awareness Week, saying:

“Eating disorders are one of the most serious, but least talked about mental health challenges. They affect people of all genders, ages and backgrounds, and if left untreated or undiagnosed, they can cause serious mental and physical harm. It’s estimated about a million Canadians have an eating disorder – many of them undiagnosed.

“For those who are struggling, the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta has information on support and treatment options at, and the Silver Linings Foundation offers support groups online. 211 Alberta, a single point of contact for information and service referrals, is also available 24/7 by phone, text and chat will help you connect with eating disorder recovery supports.

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“If you or someone you know needs help, reach out today. And if you are in distress, please call the Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642 or the National Eating Disorder Information Centre at 1-866-633-4220.”

The Silver Linings Foundation was founded in 2014 by concerned parents and community members and builds awareness for eating disorders in Alberta and advances the development of  treatment programs and services.

van Dijk said early intervention is critical, as is better understanding eating disorders.

“You can’t start by saying you are skinny and you should eat. It’s rarely about food. Anxiety and depression are the underlying phenomenon going on.”

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