Eating disorder recovery advocates are hopeful an initiative to offer a suite of treatment options in a single register will boost support, particularly in regional areas.
A national directory of eating disorder clinicians called connect*ed has been launched to help Australians who struggle with conditions like anorexia to get treatment faster.
NSW student Sophie Macansh, 24, was just 14 when she developed anorexia, and she struggled to get the right help for years while living in the small town of Deepwater.
She said people in regional areas have fewer treatment options and their location can often become a barrier to getting better.
"It was tough," Ms Macansh said.
"There's no one, no psychologists or dieticians in small rural towns - and even if you are fortunate enough to have one, it's very rare that they have experience treating eating disorders."
After a long and arduous search, Ms Macansh found an experienced dietitian located in Tamworth and a psychologist in Inverell.
She and her parents had to drive six-hour round trips to visit each specialist every week.
"There was a lot of driving, we were all so exhausted and scared. I wish my parents had something like (this) directory back then, it would have made a world of difference," she said.
Even in metro regions, getting the right treatment can be difficult.
Melbourne mum Sallie watched her nine-year-old daughter's health deteriorate for four years before they were finally able to get help for avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and anorexia.
The desperate family were given the runaround by more than 15 specialists, who misdiagnosed the young girl with Lyme disease, bad reflux and anger issues.
"We were lucky to be living in Sandringham, which has a lot of services and educated practitioners but still, the number of different diagnoses she got was extraordinary," Sallie said.
"If we had found someone who recognised ARFID first up we wouldn't have had the anorexia journey because it can be caught early."
Limited access to treatment can be devastating, Melbourne dietitian and eating disorder counsellor Helen Dean said.
"We know that eating disorders are a significant mental health issue and unfortunately get worse the longer they're untreated," she said.
"A delay in seeking treatment can lead to serious long-term consequences for the person's physical and mental health which can then impact the willingness of the individual to want to seek help."
The COVID-19 pandemic also led to increased demand for services, with calls to the Butterfly Foundation's national helpline rising 35 per cent between March 2020 and February 2021.
According to a foundation survey from 2020, 94 per cent of people in regional and remote areas living with eating disorders believed where they lived was an obstacle to accessing help.
"It is critical that people, regardless of where they live, do not fall through the gaps in the continuum of care," the Butterfly Foundation's Melissa Wilton said.
"Your postcode shouldn't be a barrier to accessing the eating disorder healthcare and support services you deserve."
The Department of Health estimates one million Australians are living with an eating disorder at any given time, and it encourages people to seek help through a GP.
The federal government has funded the establishment of the Eating Disorder Credential, a formal recognition for professionals qualified to treat the disorders.
Only clinicians with the credential will be featured on the connect*ed directory, which is overseen by industry peak body the Australia & New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders.
Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)
The Butterfly Foundation's national helpline: 1800 33 4673
Australian Associated Press
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