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Art exhibition by people with experience of eating disorders marks launch of new Bristol team

29 September 2016

An art exhibition at the Arnolfini featuring art by people with lived experience of eating disorders will mark the launch of a new Bristol based team, the Eating Disorders Health Integration Team (HIT). The exhibition includes work from patients of the specialist eating disorder service at Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, as well as pieces made or collected by members of the Eating Disorders HIT, and by the charity Anorexia and Bulimia Care. The exhibition takes place on 6 October from 5.30-7pm and is part of the Freedom of Mind Festival.

Katie Green, author of ‘Lighter than my Shadow’, a graphic memoir of eating disorders, abuse and recovery, will speak at the event. Katie is a south west-based illustrator with lived experience of an eating disorder, and will talk about how she has depicted her experiences in her work.

The Eating Disorders HIT is a team of people with lived experience of eating disorders, psychologists, academics, commissioners, care and support providers and other experts, working together to improve the lives of people with eating disorders in Bristol. They are focused on improving care and quality of life for this group of people.

People are more likely to get physically unwell or die from eating disorders than other mental health problems, yet they do not attract widespread public attention. And they tend not to be prioritised by service providers as a severe and enduring mental illness. Eating disorders afflict young and potentially productive members of society and their families. They typically endure for years and the health and social care costs associated are substantial.

The cost of eating disorders in health and social care is estimated to be £5 billion a year. Emergency hospital admissions for eating disorders have increased, and the number of children and young people being referred for help nationally has risen. In 2013/14, 40 per cent of adult eating disorder referrals in Bristol were for university students, a transient population particularly vulnerable to inconsistent and delayed treatment.

The new team is part of Bristol Health Partners, which brings together the city’s hospitals, health commissioners, local authority and universities to make a difference to Bristol people’s health, and the services they rely on. The Eating Disorders HIT’s Directors are Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Hugh Herzig and the University of the West of England’s Dr Helen Malson, at the Centre for Appearance Research.

Dr Hugh Herzig said:

“Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. People with eating disorders often fall between services, and can often be ambivalent or wary about treatment. They can get very medically unwell and need hospital treatment, but those admissions can often be chaotic and poorly managed. Our team aims to address these issues by joining up mental health, paediatrics and adult hospital services to stop people falling through the gaps. At our launch we’re hoping to empower patients and families alike to have an open discussion about their experiences.”

Illustrator Katie Green said:

“I am honoured to support the Eating Disorders HIT by speaking at the launch event on 6 October. This new team in Bristol will help people with eating disorders and their friends and families have a stronger voice in the services they use. It will also give them a say in what questions researchers need to be finding the answers to.”

Case study

Ellen Devine, who has lived experience of anorexia and is involved in the Eating Disorders HIT, talks about her experiences:

I hate to love anorexia.

Anorexia has been my constant companion for many years now. She swooped in when depression threatened to suffocate me, a sergeant major forcing me to continue to push myself to achieve in spite of the darkness. Anorexia kept me moving at first, kept me from retreating into the depths of depression, but sooner rather than later, anorexia had me captive in her own prison.

I tried to reach out for help. At a BMI of 15 I went to see a GP, broke down in tears, told him I didn't understand why I couldn't eat. He said there was nothing to worry about. I felt awful for bothering him. But I didn't have the words to make sense of what was happening to me.

Anorexia is at once my comfort and my downfall. I crave anorexia to make me feel safe, to make me feel alive and yet it is anorexia that brought me close to death and continually threatens my health. Anorexia is an illness of contradictions. It is an illness that I hate loving.

Today, after a hospital admission, attempts at day treatment and countless CBT cycles, I am still on a journey towards recovery. But I feel that I have now found the words to speak out about my experiences of an eating disorder and I hope, through the Eating Disorders HIT, I can play a small part in giving others a voice to speak out about their own experiences.

Art exhibition by people with experience of eating disorders marks launch of new Bristol team
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