Since the Charlotte Dawson tragedy, I have looked back on this piece that I wrote. Some people told me not to publish it, but I disagree with them. I will post a short intro though.
When I heard the news, I was shellshocked. I was absolutely devastated, I had to pull the car over and compose myself. No I didn't know her, and in fact I didn't much like her until the most recent series of Top Model. Whilst I never engaged in the twitter bashing that has become so highly publicised, I certainly was guilty of taking aim at other celebrities. Thankfully, I learnt the errors of my ways and can claim it as a passing angry phase.
If Charlotte had been one of those I'd treated poorly, I'd have been more than mortified and crushed, and I can imagine there are a lot of people sitting around doing some serious soul searching over their treatment of her. But they needn't. These people do not have blood on their hands. Charlotte didn't decide to leave this earth because someone she'd never met told her to on twitter. She was suffering dangerously from mental illness. Depression took her, not a twitter bully, so all this bullshit about "Charlotte's Law" makes my blood boil. That precious time and media exposure is being wasted on these bullies is what is sickening. The entire conversation should be only about how we can better help people suffering from mental health issues. Did you know suicide is the leading cause of death in males under 44, and females under 34? No, but I can bet you'd be able to name those that have died from one punch incidents in the last year. Or you'd probably remember the plethora of advertisements on the dangers of drinking, or speeding. But you won't remember the names of anyone other than Charlotte Dawson who committed suicide over the past 12 months, unless you were directly affected by it.
I urge you, don't jump on board this ridiculous wave of public sentiment. Any kind of Charlotte's Law is a waste of money and time that is absolutely precious. Money needs to be spent on treating mental health issues. As you'll read in this post, the Government's stance on mental health is atrocious, woeful. To think that this is a first world country and see the damage that depression, anxiety, anorexia, PTSD and other issues do to society, and I mean the real society not the crap you read about in papers, is just sad. It's awful.
As I said I wrote this when the Ian Thorpe thing was happening. It's still relevant, and will always be relevant, regardless of what celebrity is in the press next week or the week after. People are dying every day and most of it is preventable. But no-one with power seems to care..
I’m angry. No, it’s more than an emotion actually. It’s a mindset, a frustration, a disappointment, a loneliness. I feel incensed by some aspects. I feel empathy for those going through worse than me. Let me explain.
Ian Thorpe is going through a much publicised depressive episode, one that has lasted for a long period of time and he is finding extremely difficult to shift. The nuts and bolts of it is that last week we all thought he was in rehab. Turns out he wasn’t, but was recieving shoulder surgery. Then he was found wandering around a street trying to get in to a car that wasn’t his at 3am on a Sunday morning. By Monday, he is in rehab for alcohol abuse and a depressive disorder. My heart goes out to him, it honestly does. He has been reluctant to come forth with his story, and with his aversion to the media it is understandable why. But I want to point one thing out to everyone out there. Thorpie walked in to a rehab centre, with one days notice. For a member of the general public, this is not a possibility.
There are countless examples around the world of mega stars suffering from mental health issues. Phillip Seymour Hoffman dies from a drug overdose, the tragic consequence of a life spent fighting addiction. Ke$ha enters rehab for an eating disorder, the apparent result of an industry that puts an inhuman amount of strain upon the body of its disciples. Matthew Reilly, the famed writer, went on Australian Story with his own personal battle after his wife lost hers with depression and anorexia. As a part of the community that is afflicted by mental health issues, I and others look to these stars to promote our plight. As individuals we have no real power. We are a minority group, and the majority of that minority require intense care and have trouble expressing themselves and seeking help. By someone like Ian Thorpe going on TV and explaining about his own battle, it creates priceless, precious awareness around something that is a massive issue in the community.
But unfortunately, that is where it stops. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in NSW chuckling slyly when I read that Thorpie entered rehab on Monday. You don’t just ‘walk in’ to rehabilitation centres in this country. No. If you’re like me and suffer from anorexia, or you’ve been in contact with someone who does, you are aware of the atrocious, woeful and sad lack of resources available to members of the general public when it comes to the treatment of their disorder, whether it be a substance addiction, depression and anxiety, or anorexia. In fact all mental health issues. This country may pride itself on its public healthcare system, and in comparison to some other countries it is light years ahead, but when it comes to mental health we have absolutely nothing to be proud of. Nothing.
Did you know there are 5 public beds for anorexia sufferers in NSW? FIVE. 9% of the population is estimated to suffer from an eating disorder. NSW has a population of over 7 million, which means that 630,000 of your fellow states people suffer from some form of eating disorder. Now, naturally, all of those people are not going to be requiring inpatient treatment. Let’s hope not, right? There are 25 beds Australia-wide. We have a population of around 22 million. This is just absolutely mind boggling. 1,800 people died (est) from eating disorders in 2012 (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-05/anorexia-support-services/5240948). You know what happens when you present at a public hospital with an eating disorder? You are stabilised, then sent home. In July of 2013, I woke up one morning, got out of bed, passed out and gashed my head. This required stitches at the local emergency ward. When I was there my pulse rate was 38, my BP was so low I was almost in a coma, and I was presenting with severe dizziness and fatigue. One of the nurses asked me whether I’d let her put the drip in my arm or if I’d put up a fight. I had no idea why, until mum told me she’d probably seen hundreds of people with eating disorders refuse drips. Not once was I asked if I had anorexia or bulimia. Not once was my diet questioned. My medications were blamed, and once they’d run a couple of tests they declared me stable and I left. Google is full of stories of women who have been close to death presenting at hospitals, only to be sent back in to their deadly lifestyle once their vital organs have stabilised. This is just insanity.
If you don’t have private health insurance you are, and I won’t put too fine a point on this, up shit creek without a paddle or a boat. In fact you’re more than likely to drown. When I was going through withdrawals from Effexor, a particularly nasty anti-depressant, I presented at my local emergency room begging for help. My girlfriend was with me, and I was in tears, tatters. I was at my wits end. My psychologist and psychiatrist both told me to go to hospital immediately. When I was there, they asked me if I intended to harm myself. I said no. Did I intend to harm anyone else? No. Ok, go wait in the waiting room. 3 hours later I was seen, not by a psychiatrist, but by a nurse, who took a patient history and relayed this (over the course of another couple of hours) to a psychiatrist. The end result? They gave me six valium, told me to take 3 that day and 3 the next, and if things got worse to come back. I said to this poor nurse who was clearly desperate to help me, ‘why aren’t you helping me? I need help’. I asked if I told him I wanted to kill myself what he would do. He said he’d sedate me and put me in a monitored, locked room for 48 hours. So I could either be sedated in a locked room, or sedated at home. I went home. I saw my GP the next day, and asked him what my options were. Since I didn’t have private health insurance, I had no options. I couldn’t go in to a private mental hospital because the expense was catastrophic, and I couldn’t go to a public ward because they wouldn’t take me. They had no room, all their beds are taken up by people who are a danger to themselves or others. I was out on the street.
I’m using myself as an example here and let me explain why. I am a 25 year old male with an undergraduate degree, who’s condition has deteriorated to such a point that I need to be in an inpatient program, not only for my eating disorder but also for my anxiety and depression issues. I live with my parents, have private health insurance (full cover), and those around me are financially well off enough to cover my costs when my money runs out (often). I am, you may say, extremely lucky. To think that even I am struggling through this makes me frankly quite afraid for those out there who haven't got the good fortune that I have. What if I were trying to live alone with this? What if I were estranged from my parents? Trying to rent, living alone in the city? If my parents weren't able to afford private health insurance? I shudder to think, and my heart goes out to those less fortunate than me.
The problem is that the system is not set up to care for people with mental health issues, and in fact changes to it have made it even more unsuitable, begging the question does the Government really care about mental health? In 2008, when I began treatment, we were given 18 subsidised psychological visits under the Medicare scheme. Now, whilst this is still less than ideal, it was a darn sight more than when it was slashed in 2011 to just 10. 10!! Most people requiring serious care also require weekly psychological visits. By mid-March I will have run out of my 10 and will rely entirely on private health insurance. What of those who can't afford it? Well, join the waiting line to see a public psychologist (usually a student), and do the best you can until then.
Whilst the Government throws money at advertising campaigns for alcohol fuelled violence and road related fatalities, it seems loathe to even attempt to address our worsening suicide crisis. Certainly, if there are things in the works we haven't heard about them. There was a Hack program just before the last election when it was put to the incumbent health minister what impact a change on government would have on mental health funding. All we got in return was a lot of political spin, which is what sufferers have come to expect. Spin a line for the masses, marginalise the minority again.
Since my original article on exercise addiction I have achieved a minor storm of fame. I appeared on The Project on Channel Ten, conducted 2 radio interviews including one with Triple M's The Grill Team, and will be contributing to a book being written by the lovely Katherine Schreiber in the US on exercise addiction. 20 or 30 people have contacted me seeking help, and 1 or 2 have really stood out. A girl from Melbourne, who lives with her mum, recently reached out to me and sought my help and guidance in her own recovery. She didn't have private health insurance, and has spent months on a waiting list to get in to an inpatient program she desperately needs (which, at the time of writing, she is taking part in). Isolated by her illness she has struggled to make friends and maintain relationships, and boy can I relate (and my friends, for that matter) to this situation. Another girl stopped me on the street and was blatantly angry and annoyed at the way that eating disorders are treated in Australia. She said like me her parents had to pay for her private health insurance so she could recieve treatment because if she'd stayed in the public system she just wouldn't have recovered.
Eating disorders aren't like depression and anxiety, I want to make that clear. Depression is, by nature, quite cyclical. You go through valleys and plateaus, but rarely does it keep getting worse and worse. There is a rock bottom. Anxiety is a day to day struggle, but again, it isn't degenerative like anorexia or bulimia. These 2 afflictions are so extremely difficult to beat on your own that most psychologists, once you get past a certain point, will tell you to go in to intensive therapy immediately. Because they progress, they get worse, they have physical complications that the other disorders don't have. Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, I am no expert on these disorders, but I do know that there are blatant physical health risks associated with eating disorders that get worse until you die. Asking someone to wait on a waiting list for 2 months is akin to telling the heroin addict that now is not a good time to recover, continue your addiction for another 2 months then come talk to us then.
The exposure that exercise addiction recieved from The Project and The Grill Team is absolutely priceless. There is a woeful lack of public knowledge and awareness around these kinds of illnesses, and this only perpetuates their stigma. I spent today in Dymocks in Sydney, a giant bookstore with three levels. At this point in my recovery I am dying to read of others struggles with exercise and how they have overcome it. Unfortunately, the literature is sadly lacking, unless you really dig deep. Put it like this. There were about 8 books on eating disorders. There would've been well over 200 on diets and dieting. The rate of eating disorders in this country is 9%, and the prevalence of obesity is 28%. 2.07 million with eating disorders. 1 book for every 258,750. 6.44 million with obesity. 1 book for every 32,200.
There needs to be a dramatic revamp of the services provided to these marginalised members of our society. Everytime we see a celebrity on TV struggling with mental health, we sit on our couches, remark on how much they struggle and how sorry we feel for them, then switch over to the tennis. And that's it. I'm not asking ordinary people to care or to actually DO something, it isn't your responsibility. I am trying to highlight the lack of knowledge around treatment options for those suffering. There are wonderful websites out there such as The Butterfly Effect who provide valuable public services in linking people with treatment options and a plethora of information on eating disorders. The only problem is the services they are linking us to are inadequate. Waiting lists are unacceptably long because there aren't enough beds. Pyschiatrists who bulk bill? Ha! You're kidding right? And everyone is going ballistic over the $6 medicare levy. Well spare a thought for those who have to pay their psychiatrist $40 a visit, or $80 for their psychologist. How are they meant to live?
There is no easy answer to this. I can't make 20 million people all of a sudden care about this issue enough for it to register as a blip on the Governments radar. I'm also aware that by speaking up like this, I risk segregating this community even further from the general public, and this is in no way my intention. We don't deserve special treatment because we suffer from these ailments, we deserve the same treatment as the rest of the country gets when they are struggling with sickness.