What do you most enjoy about your role?

As clinical director at Butterfly Foundation, I am responsible for overseeing the delivery of Butterfly’s clinical and clinically informed services. I enjoy being part of a team that is passionate, enthusiastic and committed to improving the existing system of care and building services for those living with eating disorders. We know that eating disorders are serious mental health illnesses with significant impact on physical health, quality of life, family relationships and the overall health system. Being part of the conversation to help bring about systemic change is a very interesting, challenging and enjoyable part of my role.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

The hardest part of my role is knowing that there are many, many Australians living with eating disorders who do not receive the right support and treatment which is absolutely essential for recovery and potentially saving lives. I am a firm believer in equitable and accessible healthcare for everyone in Australia and while we are immensely grateful for the financial support we receive from our donors, working in a system that is failing so many people is challenging and heartbreaking. Prevention, early intervention and receiving quality treatment from appropriately trained clinicians is critical to recovering from an eating disorder and yet, just one in ten people with an eating disorder in Australia receive appropriate treatment. Historically, the eating disorders sector has been poorly funded and while the past decade has seen significant change in recognising eating disorders as a priority group for government, the pace of change is not enough to meet the documented surge in demand, especially through the coronavirus pandemic. Delivering clinical services without sustainable funding is very challenging, especially when we know what the need is.

Is the coronavirus experience shifting the way Butterfly Foundation supports young people facing eating disorders and body image issues?

The coronavirus pandemic continues to present numerous challenges for many and Butterfly’s National Helpline experienced a 150% increase in contacts through 2020. With increased isolation and changes in routines, we know that many people struggled with eating disorders and body dissatisfaction throughout the pandemic.

The coronavirus has also presented Butterfly an opportunity to rethink the way we do things. Being a dynamic organisation, Butterfly has been able to shift our focus and work to increase our reach. Almost all of Butterfly’s support and treatment services were forced to make the transition from face-to-face to online. Thanks to funding from Future Generation Global, we were in the process of developing an online version of our Youth Program before the coronavirus hit and allowed us to quickly transition our programs to online delivery. This new method has allowed us to reach more people than ever before in differing locations across Australia, particularly rural and regional areas that previously had very limited access to quality treatment.

Our education initiatives also saw a significant increase in school enrolments. Online workshops relating to improving body image have proven successful as young people are most likely to use chat functions to ask questions that they may not have in a classroom setting.

Butterfly Foundation is about to open Australia’s first residential facility for people facing eating disorders – why is this so important and how close are you to opening?

Currently in Australia, hospital care is the standard approach when an eating disorder is at its most acute and its physical effects severe. The focus of this kind of care is on medical stabilisation and weight gain with a view to improving vital bodily functions and physical health. While this approach might save a life in the interim, often standard hospital care does not address the underlying psychological dimensions to a person’s eating disorder. As a result, we often see a ‘revolving door’ effect, where patients are discharged from hospital once they are deemed medically safe, only to face little to no support in community-based care which then leads to hospital readmissions.

Butterfly hopes to bridge this treatment gap with Australia’s first residential care centre for the treatment of eating disorders, Wandi Nerida. With support from the Federal Government and generous philanthropy, Wandi Nerida will provide a safe, nurturing and healing space for eating disorder recovery in a home-like environment with intensive, holistic and person-centred care. Wandi Nerida will also be an important pilot project for future eating disorder treatment models in Australia. While significant challenges remain to obtaining ongoing funding, Butterfly is excited to opening Wandi Nerida by the end of June 2021.

Do you have any other updates from Butterfly Foundation?

Butterfly has a number of exciting new projects launching this year, particularly related to young people and the education programs. Body dissatisfaction is becoming increasingly common for young people; approximately 50% of pre-adolescent girls have reported body dissatisfaction and increasingly pre-adolescent boys are reporting a desire for a more muscular body.

Our new whole of school program, Butterfly Body Bright, will hope to address this and promote positive body image and healthy attitudes and behaviours towards the body, eating and physical activity in primary school aged children. Excitingly, we will also be launching a new Lived Experience Network to support those with lived experience of eating disorders and body image concerns, while providing them with support and further opportunities to share their experience. This will also be accompanied by a new Speaker and Ambassador Program to further Butterfly’s reach and connectedness with the community.

About Butterfly Foundation

Butterfly Foundation’s mission is to bring about change to the culture, policy and practice in the prevention, treatment and support of those affected by eating disorders and body image issues.

Butterfly Foundation and Future Generation

Future Generation Global’s investment has supported the Youth Program and Virtual Youth Program, providing evidence-based, effective early intervention for young people aged between 18 and 25 years with disordered eating and eating disorders.

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