Some people living with eating disorders are waiting up to a year for treatment in Manitoba, but the province's health minister hopes an injection of funding will shorten the wait list.
Jessica Cuddy, 22, was one of almost 60 people on a one-year waiting list to get into a publicly funded eating disorder program at the Women's Health Clinic.
"I know what it's like to be living your daily life with an eating disorder and feeling like there's nothing you can do about it, and it's not going to get easier because there's no help," said Cuddy.
The province of Manitoba has three adult eating disorder programs:
- Women's Health Centre out-patient program: up to a one-year wait.
- Health Sciences Centre (HSC) in-patient (residential hospital) program: up to three-month wait — however, any emergency cases will be admitted right away.
- HSC day hospital: no wait.
- HSC evening program: first-come, first-serve basis.
The HSC also runs a Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders Service through its day hospital. The wait for an assessment is five months. Once assessed, officials say patients do not face a further wait.
Dr. Louis Ludwig, director of the HSC Adult Eating Disorder program, said it "may be good to strike while the iron is hot" when patients come for help.
However, he said sometimes the wait is not necessarily a bad thing.
"There are times you can be admitted within a week, and those patients sometimes don't do that well because they're not that ready yet," he said.
"They need some time to really deal with their ambivalence about getting rid of the eating disorder, and sometimes being on the waiting list helps. We don't make them wait deliberately, but surprisingly, shortening the waiting list might not be a great idea."
Cuddy said her condition deteriorated earlier this year, as her name sat on the WHC waiting list.
She starved herself, binged and purged. At the same time, she was battling depression.
"It was so difficult. I kept meeting dead ends that I would just be like, 'That's it. I'm giving up,'" Cuddy said of her attempts to get help.
Elaine Stevenson says it is unacceptable for those struggling with eating disorders to hit "dead ends" like Cuddy did.
Stevenson's daughter, Alyssa, died from anorexia in 2002 at the age of 24.
Stevenson acknowledges the progress that the health-care system has made when it comes to eating disorder support. For example, there was no program in place for adolescents with eating disorders, like her daughter, in the 1990s.
Following lobbying efforts from advocates like Stevenson, that changed when the province opened the adolescent program at the HSC in 2001.
But Stevenson said persistent waiting lists are unacceptable.
"I'm so dismayed that 23 years ago, I was desperately trying to find services in order to save our daughter's life, and today, they're trying to do the same thing," she said.
A last resort
Cuddy's mother quickly became her advocate and found her a space in a private eating disorder recovery centre in Brandon called Westwind. Cuddy calls it her last resort.
"It's hard to even imagine, and it's scary because how I feel now is so vastly different — in a really good way," she said.
Now her mother is shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for her daughter's three-month treatment.
Health officials are trying to shorten the wait list.
Health Minister Theresa Oswald says she hopes new funding for the HSC adult day program will help lessen the wait. She recently announced $300,000 for the program.
"We're always wanting to try to provide more services. Of course, we have to do that in the context of other mental health issues that we have to fund and support. Eating disorders isn't the only one. We have to strike that balance," she said.