Beat have today launched a campaign to draw attention to the problems caused by the time that people with eating disorders spend waiting for specialist treatment.
I have been lucky and unlucky over the years with waiting times. I was seen in Dr R's clinic just a few weeks after my GP referred me in 1998 (and it would have been sooner were it not for my insistence that I was going to go on holiday to Seattle on my own whatever any medical professional told me). No follow up resulted from that appointment because I was due to set off for university: since I wouldn't accept the doctor's advice to postpone uni and stay for treatment, she couldn't keep me on. Over the ensuing 4 or 5 weeks, I gradually came to the realisation that I could not go to uni. If I couldn't walk down the road without leaning on my mother for support, how would I be able to manage alone in London?
So my GP re-referred me to specialist services and an appointment letter arrived. But when a further letter arrived to postpone that appointment, I broke down: I had pinned so much hope onto the thought of getting help, that the prolonging of wait for that help was unbearable. So unbearable that my dad had to take me into the GP surgery because I was unable to cope with being alive. The GP cancelled all her other appointments and rang the specialist who liaised with her over the phone to help her look after me from that day (Friday) until the Monday, when he saw me in clinic and sorted out a bed almost immediately.
Contrast this with Cambridge, where I had to wait months for an "assessment", despite them receiving a detailed referral letter from Dr R, and then had to wait further months on the hilariously oxymoronic "emergency waiting list" for therapy. Their refusal to offer me any help in 2010 followed 4 months waiting for another "assessment".
In addition to the factor of where you live and how the local service operates, the type of eating disorder someone is experiencing affects the waiting time too. Unfortunately, waiting times can be vastly different for a restricting anorexic than for someone with bulimia, where the severity of their condition is masked by their BMI. It's a situation that dangerously plays into the eating disordered mindset, since one is (essentially) encouraged to reach as low a BMI as possible in order to be taken seriously by medical professionals. Yet the medical complications of eating disorders are not dependent on weight. Heart arrhythmias can kill someone with bulimia even if her BMI falls within normal range. Someone with long-term anorexia can maintain a low weight for a perplexingly long time; this does not mean that they are ok to be left alone with no help.
I have a friend who nearly lost her life while waiting for treatment. She has given me permission to tell her story in the next post.