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Australia's Only Support Service for Eating Disorders Could Be Shutting Down

The Butterfly Foundation is worried it may lose its funding under the Turnbull Government's plan to "streamline" mental health services.

by Katherine Gillespie
17 May 2016, 12:00am

The Butterfly Foundation is Australia's only dedicated support service for people with eating disorders. Image via

The Federal Government has announced a new and futuristic-sounding "digital mental health gateway" that's set to replace some of Australia's key mental health services. These include Lifeline, SANE Australia, and the Butterfly Foundation.

The Butterfly Foundation is the only one of these services dedicated to the treatment ofeating disorders, but with their funding to be cut in 2017 CEO Christine Morgan told VICE their future is uncertain. "The government has told us that they accept we are the clear expert in providing support for people with eating disorders," she said. "They have also extended support line funding until June 2017; however, we have had no indication of funding or support for services beyond that time."

The Butterfly Foundation operates a national service called ED HOPE that gives support to people suffering from disorders like anorexia and bulimia over the phone, via email, and through online chat rooms. It's staffed by a team of trained counsellors.

According to the foundation, its support line has had more than 10,000 contacts in the past 12 months, with an average phone call lasting between 17‐19 minutes and an average webchat lasting around 48 minutes. Callers present counsellors with a variety of complex issues relating to weight, shape, and body image. They also seek referrals to specialists and GPs.

"The health system is failing people with eating disorders," explained Christine. "Not a single local health district or area has the necessary full continuum of care for eating disorders, and most do not have access to the necessary range of clinical professionals for treatment.

"This makes ongoing survival of the national support line absolutely vital. Otherwise, Australians living with an illness that has staggering mortality and suicide rates will be left to deal with a system that has failed them at every point."

According to Eating Disorders Victoria, eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in young females, and risk of premature death from an eating disorder is six to 12 times higher than that of the general population.

It looks like mental health services in Australia face a comprehensive restructuring over the next few years, with the ABC reporting that other mental health support organisations like Lifeline also face funding cuts.

"The Government needs to invest in building the health system," explains Christine. And as she see it, the services provided by Butterfly are actually the bare minimum of what Australians suffering from eating disorders require.

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