Starving for services

Dream come true: Lara-Jane's determination to become a mother helped her overcome an eating disorder that threatened her life. Photo: Kate Hedley.
Dream come true: Lara-Jane's determination to become a mother helped her overcome an eating disorder that threatened her life. Photo: Kate Hedley.

Eating disorders are serious.

And they can affect anyone in the community.

One local woman opens up about her journey to recovery from anorexia, and calls for more local services to help those in the area who are suffering.

This is mother of three, Lara-Jane’s story.

I don’t want sympathy; I don’t want people to think I’m doing this to get attention. It’s beyond that.

Lara-Jane Andrew

Where it began

Weighing just 36 kilograms and eating only cucumber every day, Lara-Jane Andrew knew she needed help.

Desperate to have children, the Bunbury woman in the grip of anorexia nervosa was told her frail body would never cope with pregnancy.

Something had to change.

Lara-Jane was in her early 20s when she was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease; an inner-ear disorder which left her dizzy and feeling “sea-sick – on land – 24/7”.

It was suggested she keep an eye on her sodium intake to minimise the symptoms of the disease, but this careful cataloguing of everything she ate quickly turned into a nightmare for Lara-Jane.

“It really triggered an obsession with food,” she said.

“I was too scared to eat anything because every time I’d eat, I’d vomit.

“So I chose not to eat.”

It wasn’t just obsessing over food, though.

Lara-Jane would also exercise compulsively, and said she would walk “marathon distances” each day.

“I had to walk,” she said.

“If I didn’t exercise I thought my world was going to end.”

It wasn’t until a friend noticed changes in Lara-Jane that things started looking up.

“One of my good friends actually probably diagnosed me,” Lara-Jane said.

“She noticed it straight away and said to my husband he needed to get me some help.”

Lara-Jane’s first appointment with her GP provided the wake-up call she desperately needed.

“One doctor said to me ‘you will end up in a brown box’,” she said.

“Those words will always be in my head.”

That initial consultation started Lara-Jane on the road to recovery, but it was a long road.

She said a lack of support services in Bunbury for people with eating disorders forced her to seek treatment in Perth.

Lara-Jane took part in a trial being run in the metropolitan area; a trial she says worked for her.

“I’m not recovered,” she said.

“But I’m well on the road.”

Largely crediting her come-back to health to her desire to become a mother, Lara-Jane said realising she needed to be healthy in order to fulfill that wish was a “massive turning point” for her.

“That was the wake-up call for me,” she said.

“That was my goal.

“Once I knew I was aiming to have a baby, that’s when I started to eat healthily.”

Now 33, and a mother to three boys – Hudson, nearly five, Levi, nearly three, and Kobe, six months – and wife to Jared, Lara-Jane is not only imploring authorities to improve services in the region for those suffering eating disorders, she is urging others to seek help if necessary.

“I just want people to know they’re not alone,” she said.

“I don’t want sympathy; I don’t want people to think I’m doing this to get attention. It’s beyond that.”

Lara-Jane said if anyone had something taking over their daily life, and stopping them from doing other things, then there was an issue that needed to be addressed.

Healing hands: Lara-Jane with six-month-old Kobe. Photo: Kate Hedley.

Healing hands: Lara-Jane with six-month-old Kobe. Photo: Kate Hedley.

She urged anyone suffering from an eating disorder to recognise the problem and “open up”.

“My doctor was amazing,” she said.

“But we really need more services down here."

Services ‘woeful’

Lara-Jane’s GP, and Brecken Health Care medical director Dr Brenda Murrison echoed the call for more local help in dealing with eating disorder patients.

While Dr Murrison did not comment specifically on Lara-Jane’s circumstances, she did say it was no secret that services for people with anorexia in Bunbury were “woeful”.

“This is the same as all mental health services,” she said.

“One of the pressing  issues in mental health is that no one knows what is available as the funding is splintered over so many organisations – usually not for profit organisations –  but the end result of this is that there is very little coordination of services and not enough communications between existing providers.

“This is a longstanding issue not just in Bunbury but across WA and the Eastern states.”

Dr Murrison said while the majority of specialist services for anorexia nervosa patients were based in Perth, there was no reason the services could not be delivered locally.

But with a “massively overstretched” South West Mental Health Team, there was the chance patients could be discharged to community-based services too early.

“Most community-based psychologist services are private and the gaps are too high for a lot of patients to afford,” Dr Murrison said.

“Treating anorexia nervosa is a long-term commitment, and good results can be achieved locally with the right team of professionals.”

Dr Murrison said one of the main issues was project funding, and the chance of services “literally disappearing overnight” with changes in government.

She said this issue affected both state and federal-funded initiatives, and said the re-naming, re-branding and re-packaging of services, plus “unnecessary administration” led to less and less clinical services making their way to patients.

Do you need help?

Call headspace on 1800 650 890

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800

Alternatively, speak to your local GP, school counsellor, friend, or family member to start the recovery process.