Frustrated by a health care system that she says underfunds eating disorders that are killing at least 1,500 people each year in Canada, one young anorexic took a unique approach to her anorexia by opening her own business, a move she credits with saving her life.
Amuse Coffee Co., a new, trendy coffee boutique in the student quarter of Peterborough, Ontario, grabbed all the considerable help on offer from FastStart – a local entrepreneurship training initiative – and realized her lifelong dream of opening her own Parisian-inspired coffee boutique.
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Today, she insists that the support she received from such an unexpected quarter has saved her life, moving her from despair to hope. Now she wants to get eating disorders the attention she feels they merit and are not getting on the Canadian medical landscape.
Anorexia nervosa usually shows up as extreme weight-loss. Sufferers have a distorted body image and may be convinced they are fat even if they are emaciated. Anorexics may restrict their food intake to the point of starvation. Dollars available to treat the disorder still score low on the list of government funding priorities, mostly because of a lack of awareness and understanding, says Brock.
There are only 20 government funded inpatients beds for sufferers of eating disorders in the entire province of Ontario, and the wait for acceptance can be months, according to the National Institute on Eating Disorders. Brock waited for seven months for a bed in the Toronto General Hospital program. She says treatment included rapid weight gain that terrified her, and she left the program early. She stresses that an eating disorder is a mental disorder, and for many, forced feeding and rapid weight gain can lead to relapse.
“I do not believe anyone ever really recovers. Instead, we learn how to manage.”
In desperation, Brock changed her focus and started her business. Brock credits the sharp eye and compassionate nature of Rose Terry, FastStart’s entrepreneurship coordinator at Trent University, who gave her the support and encouragement she needed to make the dream a reality.
Designed to increase the entrepreneurship skills and awareness of university and college students and help them develop solid business plans and take products to market, the FastStart initiative is being funded through a Government of Ontario grant under the province’s $ 5 million On-Campus Entrepreneurship Activities (OCEA) program, managed by Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).
“I knew that Lindsay had an eating disorder before she told me,” says Terry. “It was obvious. However, she turned out to be a model client, took all the help we offered her from mentors, coaches and expert Knowledge Partners, and followed our guidance rigorously.”
According to NIED, out of 4,100 psychiatrists in Canada, only 12 treat eating disorders. Meanwhile, estimates go as high as 500,000 people in Canada who suffer from the life threatening illness.
“It’s really time that eating disorders get the same mental health recognition and funding and treatment as cancer and heart disease and every other major illness out there,” says Wendy Preskow, NIED founder, president and chief advocate. Preskow says there is no data collection on eating disorders in Canada, and without confirming data, funding for eating disorders is hard to attain.
“Eating Disorders numbers are getting worse, with onsets as early as five years old and mortality rates as high as 20 per cent – more than any other mental disease.”
After starting Amuse Coffee Co., Brock located NIED online, and now donates all the proceeds from the sale of her Purple Ribbon coffee to NIED.
While her business shows every sign of becoming a success, Brock acknowledges her health remains precarious. She undergoes regular heart checks and takes potassium supplements. She soldiers on, hoping for an increase in awareness, and funding, for treatment of eating disorders in Canada.
Meanwhile, Brock wants people to understand that having an eating disorder is not a choice, and that no community is untouched by the disease.
Eating Disorders – Quick Fact Sheet
Current intensive treatment in hospitals focuses on medical stabilization and refeeding. This “one size fits all” approach is successful in only 25% of Eating Disorder cases.
It takes between 2-7 years to treat an eating disorder, but only 50 per cent of individuals will fully recover.
Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of ANY mental disease. Eating Disorders are 12 times more likely to lead to death than any other mental illness. They are the most lethal and complex of all mental health disorders.
Eating Disorders are generally believed to be a young woman’s disease but actually affect girls as young as 5 years old, older women aged 60+ who have been living with the disease for 30 or more years and boys and men. An estimated 20% of people suffering with Anorexia or Bulimia are males.
Data provided to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women for their Report on Eating Disorders Among Girls and Women in Canada (released November 2014) suggest that as many as 600,000 to 900,000 Canadians meet the diagnostic criteria for an Eating Disorder at any given time.
The mortality rate for anorexia nervosa is 10% to 15%.
The leading cause of death for anorexia nervosa is cardiac problems; the second leading cause is suicide.
Eating disorders are a serious brain disease, with complex roots that manifest themselves through unhealthy eating behaviours.
Stats Canada data suggests that the rate of obesity in adolescent girls in Canada is 9%. The rate of Eating Disorders among the same population is estimated to be around 18%.
Eating Disorders are chronic illnesses with up and downs, with progressions and dismal relapses. Many Eating Disorder sufferers have a myriad of personality issues, developmental concerns, psychological distresses, and psychiatric problems. These individuals are often arrested and incarcerated because of shoplifting and stealing food. The incidence of sexual abuse or significant traumatic experience in individuals with Eating Disorders is over 66%.
In the last 5 years in Canada, $7.5 million have been spent on operating grants for Eating Disorders. This contrasts with $86 million spent on operating grants for Schizophrenia. Eating Disorders are as severe and more prevalent and deadly than Schizophrenia, yet more than 10 times the money is spent on Schizophrenia grants.