QUEEN’S PARK — The Ontario NDP and MPP Jill Andrew (Toronto-St. Paul's), Critic for Women’s Social & Economic Opportunity, Culture, and Heritage, mark this week as the third Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) in Ontario. The week was established through Andrew’s Bill 61, which passed unanimously on December 8, 2020, to formally recognize February 1-7 of each year as a time to raise awareness and take action to support people and families with eating disorders in the province.
According to eating disorder organizations there is an estimated 689,000 Ontarians with an eating disorder. Only 10% of people with eating disorders receive appropriate treatment and an even smaller proportion access early intervention services.
“It is critical that anyone in Ontario impacted by eating disorders or related mental health challenges have equitable access to timely, publicly funded care in their communities,” said Andrew. “This is how we ensure that people don’t die on wait lists for publicly funded in-patient care. There are only 20 publicly funded beds for those with eating disorders in Ontario. Your choice is wait - often with no end in sight - or pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for private care. Those who cannot afford to pay and who wait too long can and have died.”
There has been a surge in eating disorders during the pandemic especially among children, adolescents, and those who are food insecure. Second to drug addiction, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition. While eating disorders continue to disproportionately impact women and girls, eating disorders do not discriminate. People across genders, racial backgrounds, abilities, socioeconomic realities, size and weight, and sexual orientation get eating disorders and are often struggling to get local care.
This year’s EDAW theme is “transforming the narrative from asks to action”. The goal is to help connect people with decision makers to help them better understand the connection between eating disorders, systemic barriers, and traumas such as poverty, gender-based violence, bullying, and precarious housing that can exacerbate eating disorders.
Organizations like NEDIC, Sheena’s Place, and NIED, among others are supporting eating disorder community members and their families here in St. Paul’s and across the province, but they need more help.
These and other eating disorders organizations have come together calling on the Ontario government to implement recommendations to help more Ontarians get the help they need before it’s too late. More community-based early intervention resources are required. There are community calls to make permanent and provide annualized funding for the currently temporary 14 pediatric surge beds and create a new billing code to allow regulated mental health professionals to bill OHIP for services to expand access to mental health and addictions so that eating disorder clients are not paying out of pocket for the care they so desperately need. The Ontario NDP echoed these calls through the Universal Mental Health Care plan.
“People with eating disorders need universal, publicly funded mental health care,” said Andrew. “The only card people should need is their OHIP card – never a credit card.”