Bathurst woman faces barriers to eating disorder treatment

Melanie Mallet has struggled with eating disorders since she was a teenager, and travels to Halifax once a week to receive treatment for bulimia and anorexia, while working part time in Bathurst.

Province covers treatment costs but not expenses for travel, meal or lodging

Melanie Mallet lives in Bathurst and travels to Halifax for treatment of anorexia and bulimia. She says the financial strain is overwhelming. (Radio-Canada)

Melanie Mallet has struggled with eating disorders since she was a teenager, and travels to Halifax once a week to receive treatment for bulimia and anorexia, while working part time in Bathurst.

Halifax is the only city east of Quebec with a public treatment centre. Mallet says she can't afford to attend the clinic in Moncton, which is private, because her insurance only covers up to $500 a year, the equivalent to just four sessions.

"The province has a policy where it only funds for three nights a week. It wasn't much of a possibility with work," said Mallet.

The provincial government pays her clinical fees, but doesn't cover expenses like gas, lodging, and meals. Mallet had expected to stay in Halifax for two days a week before she learned of the policy.

"I had to cut down to one day a week faster than I planned and now I have to pay for hotels during the week or try to find someone to lodge me while I'm there."

For Mallet, it's just another roadblock in her struggle to recover.

You can't quite understand it or grasp it unless you're suffering from it. But then you don't wish for anybody to actually suffer through this.- Melanie Mallet

She has seen psychologists since she was 17 and said many have struggled to understand her disorder.

A trip to Ottawa to seek treatment at a a clinic was cut short when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Mallet's first stay at the Halifax treatment centre was successful. But when she returned to university, and her part time job, she relapsed within six weeks.

In addition to physical ailments like nerve damage, hair loss, and fatigue, Mallet suffers from depression and feels shame about her eating disorders.

"It's very shameful to talk about. It's embarrassing. You don't want to talk to people about how you make yourself throw up seven times a day," Mallet said.

Still taboo

Mallet first began to restrict her eating as a teenager. She weighed herself every day.

"I would have to keep track of absolutely everything I was putting in my body, down to gum, mints. [It] didn't matter what it was, I had to calculate it," she said.

"I had a bunch of little notebooks filled with numbers."

When Mallet eventually sought treatment, few people understood her struggle.

"You can't quite understand it or grasp it unless you're suffering from it. But then you don't wish for anybody to actually suffer through this."

Melanie Mallet says it's very shameful talking about her eating disorder. (Radio-Canada)
When Mallet was in her second year of university in Nova Scotia, she attempted suicide and was hospitalised. 

Eventually, Mallet was transferred home to the hospital in Bathurst. She was eventually discharged, but has not recovered.

Mallet says people in her life, including some health care professionals, are not always supportive of her struggle with an illness they don't understand.

"I would almost wish that I just had something like cancer because it would be less embarrassing to tell someone and you would feel a lot more sympathy and empathy from people," said Mallet.

"I've dated people and when I confessed about my problem, they literally fell off the face of the earth within two weeks."

At the Capital Health eating disorder clinic in Halifax, Mallet is able to meet with people who suffer from similar illnesses.

Every Monday, she eats breakfast at the clinic and attends a check-in afterwards to dispel anxiety around the meal.

Then she attends a nutri-logical group where she and other patients talk about goals, nutrition, and strategies to deal with negative thoughts and behaviours.

Though the therapy is beneficial, Mallet said the financial stress of travelling is starting to take its toll.

"It felt like every time I tried to do something for myself and it felt like things were going well it was like I faced a wall and I just bashed my head against it," she said.

"Every time I thought I had something figured out there would be a new barrier in the way just tripping me."

About the Author

Bridget Yard


Bridget Yard is a video journalist based in Saskatoon. She has also worked for CBC in Fredericton and Bathurst, N.B.


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