Key players in the prevention, identification, intervention and follow-up of eating disorders in Newfoundland and Labrador are meeting Friday at Memorial University’s Counselling Centre to begin to create connections to move forward with this work.
Dr. Olga Heath is a new faculty member with a strong clinical background in eating disorders who is now with the university Counselling Centre and cross-appointed to Eastern Health to chair the Eating Disorder Working Group.
“Given the published data which would lead us to believe that eating disorders and disordered eating are very common amongst university students – between 20 and 35 per cent – it is important to have the Counselling Centre and Student Health working collaboratively with the health care,” she noted.
Dr. Heath said the recent provincial budget recognizes the need for eating disorders services by providing some funding in year’s budget and full funding for the following year to create a provincial Eating Disorder Program. “This is a tremendous accomplishment for those who have been actively advocating for services for this group and their families. Our meeting Friday will celebrate this government decision, and also mark the first time that representatives of all parties with an interest and a stake in working with this group will get together to begin the process of creating connections that will allow us to work productively together.”
Six groups will be represented at this gathering. The Eating Disorder Working Group is primarily from Eastern Health but has expanded in the past year to include Memorial University. This group’s mandate is to examine the continuum of services available to individuals, both adult and children, and their families and to advocate for more services where needed.
The Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador has several Memorial representatives, including Dr. Heath, and is establishing itself as an advocating body for people with eating disorders and their families. The Body Image Network, co-chaired by Dr. Natalie Beausoleil, Division of Community Health and Humanities, is working to increase awareness of the impact of negative body image and promote positive body image with one of the desired outcomes being a reduction in the development of eating disorders.
A fourth group, which will be represented at the meeting, is the Parents of Hope, a grassroots community support group of parents who have children or young adults who have or have had eating disorders. Parents of Hope is supported by Eastern Health through the provision of access to a mental health professional and space.
Memorial’s Counselling Centre and Student Health will also be represented at the meeting. The Counselling Centre is already offering individual assessment and treatment for students with eating disorders as well as prevention activities and outreach. The centre also plans to provide group treatment. Student Health provides medical assessment and follow-up to students, many of whom have serious medical complications from eating disorders and all of whom need to be evaluated medically as long as their eating disorder is active.
“What I think is really exciting about this event is that for the first time we will have all of the key players or representatives of key groups in one place,” said Dr. Heath. “It provides the opportunity to move forward in developing comprehensive solutions for this serious problem.”