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Students and health professionals slam defunding of eating disorder support service

Eden Faithfull reports

University students and mental health professionals have voiced concerns after news the Butterfly Foundation, Australia’s only dedicated eating disorder support service, is set to lose funding next year under a federal government shake-up of mental health services.

With only 12 months of certain funding being promised, the Butterfly Foundation is “sounding the mayday alarm” for over 700,000 people across Australia who will be left with no dedicated national service to support them.

Andy Zephyr, a Sydney University student who has struggled with eating disorders since adolescence, said the service had supported them during some of their most difficult times.

“I had the ability to contact them whenever I needed to, and the benefit of their hotline was that I was provided with complete anonymity. I could stay on the line for however long I wanted while I ate, and felt comfortable knowing there was someone on the other end of the line who was there for me,” they said.

Elizabeth Stanton, a counsellor for Sydney University’s Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), agreed the reduction of funding would have devastating consequences for student mental health.

“The treatment of eating disorders involves such a specialist knowledge and understanding. The highest standards of care are really non-negotiable when it comes to individuals physical and mental health.”

The projected cuts are slated against existing public health service austerity. There are currently only 37 adult hospital beds designated for sufferers of eating disorders in state capitals across the country, with no specialist services in regional areas whatsoever.

In a statement released to media, the Butterfly Foundation said the nation’s health system was failing people with eating disorders “at every point”, from missed, incorrect and incomplete diagnoses to lack of treatment opportunities in hospitals.

Dr Ben Veness, a mental health advocate, stressed the importance of raising awareness of the very real risks associated with eating disorders on university campuses.

“Given that eating disorders are one of the main causes of morbidity among young Australian women overall, there is no reason to think it is any less of a problem on our university campuses.”

Phillip Brien, a former student of Sydney University and who suffered from an eating disorder, said the Foundation’s defunding will disadvantage poorer students.

“The removal of funding from the Butterfly Foundation results in the abolition of a support network for those who are not blessed with the resources and guidance I had. For these people, the defunding of the Butterfly Foundation likely means they will never overcome their disorders.”