The family of a teenager who has successfully battled anorexia with support from experts at a specialist eating disorders service have praised the treatment and care she received and urged others in a similar situation to seek help.
Lisa, not her real name, was admitted to Ipswich Hospital last year after her weight plummeted to the same as she weighed when she was nine. She spent three-and-a-half weeks gradually regaining weight before she was discharged into the care of the Suffolk Eating Disorders Team, run by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, where she has continued to make a good recovery.
Now the 13-year-old is encouraging other people experiencing problems to ask for help so that they can get support to address the reasons underlying their illness and enjoy living life to the full.
"I compared myself to my friends and to the super-skinny models you see on TV and felt under a lot of pressure," said Lisa, who lives in Ipswich. "I was very good at hiding it from my mum and dad, but they realised what was happening and took me to the doctors."
Following her discharge from hospital, Lisa received support from the eating disorders team, initially seeing a psychologist. She is now in the care of a specialist mental health nurse, who she sees every three weeks.
"The nurse I work with is lovely. She helps me so much," she added. "I had real problems with anxiety and would get very nervous about things, but she helped me to overcome that while gradually increasing the range of foods I eat.
"I now feel a lot better. There is a big difference in my weight, and I’m really enjoying school again. I used to get very tired, but now I’ve got lots more energy and like playing sports. The service has been such a massive help for me."
Lisa's mum echoed her views, saying: "The team were brilliant and I couldn't ask for more – the care has been amazing and we are so grateful for the help we’ve received."
The Suffolk Eating Disorder Service is run by a team of specialist nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and dieticians, who provide assessment for conditions such as anorexia and bulimia. Patients can be referred to the service by their GP, school or health visitor.
Dr Salbu Krishnan, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with the service, said: “Although eating disorders often start in people’s teenage years, they can affect people of all ages and both sexes. We currently look after nearly 100 patients aged between eight and 65, and receive two or three new referrals every week.
“Anorexia is most likely to start between the ages of 13 and 25, when young people are naturally very conscious of their appearance and developing their sense of themselves. It may be triggered by family issues and difficulties with their peer groups.
“It is less common but still occurs in those between eight and 12, where it often begins as an emotional disorder which causes food refusal, and in adults aged 25 and over, when it tends to come following relationship issues. This can lead to anxiety disorder, with the focus then turning to the body as relief from that disorder.
"Although most of our patients are girls and women, we do also see a significant number of boys and men. This seems to be related to increasing cultural pressure for boys to look a certain way, and may begin with muscle building and the gym."
The service aims to identify eating disorders as early as possible, which gives the individual a greater chance of making a good recovery. A range of different treatment options are available, from nasogastric tubes in the most serious cases to talking therapies, medication and counselling.
"We provide a comprehensive service within the community, and do our best to avoid hospital admissions wherever possible by offering intensive, targeted support," added Dr Krishnan. “We will work with our patients and their families to put together individual treatment plans tailored to meet their needs, which could include psychological treatments to reduce anxiety, for example, as well as medication and meal plans.
"We concentrate on improving people’s physical health first by stabilising their weight before then gradually increasing it. As the person starts to get better physically, they get ready to talk and we can begin psychotherapy and work with them and their family on strategies for managing their feelings and the causes of their illness.
"We are very proud of the service we provide and the positive impact it has had on helping so many people make a good recovery. It is incredibly rewarding to see."
Patients can be referred to the eating disorder service by their GP, school or health visitor.