A Calgary mother is partnering with the Canadian Mental Health Association to bring eating disorder education to city schools.
Anita Simon started the Silver Linings Foundation to provide support for families dealing with eating disorders after struggling to find help for her own daughter.
At 11 years old, Nicole Cowper ended up in an intensive care unit after suffering a heart attack induced by anorexia.
"It's an awful feeling," said Simon. "The scariest thing in my life."
According to a recent report, the hospitalization rate for 10- to 19-year-old Canadian girls jumped by 42 per cent in just two years.
'There are kids as young as five that have eating disorders' - Donna Baird
It's a huge concern to Simon, who is now working with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to raise awareness and intervene early.
The CMHA is currently developing a curriculum and plans to add eating disorder workshops to the programs it offers to elementary, junior high and high schools as well as colleges and universities in the Calgary area.
According to Donna Baird, director of client services with the Alberta CMHA, eating disorders are showing up in younger and younger children.
"There are kids as young as five that have eating disorders, that I know of," Baird said.
The program will be designed to help children identify the signs and get help if they need it.
It will include videotaped testimonials from young people who have experienced eating disorders as well.
"There's still a stigma attached where we think, go home and eat and it will fix your problems," said Baird. "People aren't looking at the fact that this is more of a mental illness."
For Simon, the project is about fostering an environment of acceptance.
"We just really want to create an open dialogue, decrease the stigma, give them those tools to manage the depression, anxiety, stress, so that maybe it doesn't develop into the eating disorder," she said.
In addition, Simon hopes the program will help those who may already be struggling with an eating disorder find the help they need more quickly.
The CMHA still has to get the approval of Calgary school boards.
It aims to start offering the new program to interested schools in the fall.