Nova Scotia

Dealing with eating disorders in N.S.

The plight of 13-year-old anorexic Shelby Fillmore is prompted another young woman struggling with anorexia to speak out about treatment programs in N.S. and in other places.

The plight of 13-year-old anorexic Shelby Fillmore has prompted another young woman who has struggled with anorexia to speak out about treatment programs in N.S. and in other places.

Fillmore left for Arizona Wednesday to enter a residential treatment facility specifically for eating disorders.

The province originally agreed to pay for her out-of-province care, but then, her parents said, the IWK Health Centre rescinded its recommendation that she be funded.

Jessica Inkpen struggle with anorexia began 16 years ago, when she was the same age as Fillmore.

Inkpen said treatment in Ontario likely saved her life.

"My doctor gave me five years — tick tock," she said in a YouTube video made last year, before she hit rock bottom.

She grew sicker despite years of eating disorder treatments and hospital stays in Halifax. Rock bottom for Inkpen included isolating herself from loved ones, and rarely leaving the house.

Her psychiatrist urged the province twice to pay for her care. On appeal, it was approved by MSI.

"I'm really not sure if I'd be alive right now," she said, if she hadn't gone to Ontario.

She said the problem for her with the Halifax outpatient program was that it lacked the same intense structure the 24/7 treatment centre in Ontario gave her during her four-month long stay last summer.

"I gained coping skills to replace what I was using my eating disorder for — anxiety problems," she told CBC News. She said it also taught her to figure out who she was aside from her eating disorder, because she said "that becomes your identity."

Less than a year later, the 28-year-old has gained weight and is now a first-year university student.
Jessica Inkpen spent four-months at an intense eating disorder clinic in Ontario. (CBC)

She said by coming back to the outpatient clinic following her out-of-province treatment, she's been able to stay in recovery.

Programs in N.S.

Psychologist David Pilon chairs the Nova Scotia Eating Disorders Treatment Network and he said while it's not always ideal to send people away, for some it's necessary.

"Individuals with eating disorders have probably the highest mortality of any mental health or psychiatric condition and sadly sometimes they tend to be trivialized or glamorized in some way," he said.

It's hard for people sometimes to transition to being home after being sent away for treatment, he said, and a typical hospital stay could cost taxpayers somewhere in the range of $1,200 to $1,500 per day.

"In some of the residential programs for example in Ontario as well as in British Columbia, they have more resources to be able to offer programming and care not only throughout the day, but into the evening hours seven days a week," Pilon said.

"Our programs here simply don't have that amount of programming resources."

Capital Health and the IWK are designing a 12-hour day program to ensure not only a smooth transition for those individuals who may need it as they move from adolescent to adulthood, but to make it available across the province — and not just in Halifax.

Ideally, people struggling with eating disorders would come every day for care, participate in groups and treatment, they have  three meals a day there and support after the last meal.

For Inkpen, just because there's more weight on her body, doesn't mean she's 100 per cent better.

"It's still a struggle every day. Recovery is not a cure, it's like a journey, so every day it's with me," Inkpen said.