Belfast Telegraph

Mum thankful for mental health unit who helped daughter's anorexia battle - now's the last chance to nominate your unsung heroes

SPIRIT OF NORTHERN IRELAND AWARDS 2019

Winners of the Spirit of Health award, the Eating Disorder Team from CAMHS at Antrim Area Hospital. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Winners of the Spirit of Health award, the Eating Disorder Team from CAMHS at Antrim Area Hospital. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

By Stephanie Bell

A small and dedicated team of health professionals who help young people with eating disorders were recognised as our Spirit of Health winners at last year's Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers.

The Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) team based at Antrim Area Hospital was nominated by the grateful mum of one teenage girl who was struggling so badly with anorexia that she was suicidal.

Eating disorders are now the biggest mental health killer among young people outside of suicide.

More and more patients are being referred to the team who work with children from as young as eight years old up to 18 years old.

They work closely with the paediatric unit in Antrim Area Hospital, GPs and schools to identify children with eating disorders and ensure they get the help they need.

  • Now we want you to nominate your Spirit of Health hero for this year's awards. You can nominate now at sundaylife.co.uk/spirit

Alongside the treatment offered, there are also support groups for children and their families.

The five-strong team include mental health practitioners Carmel Milne and Philip Given, manager Leoni Dunn, consultant psychiatrist Dr Maggie McGurgan, specialist dietician Sonya Jain, and team leader and clinical nurse specialist Sinead Hutchinson.

All five were in the Crowne Plaza, Belfast to pick up their award along with the service's founder Jackie Nelson.

Delighted to receive the award from Emmerdale actress Gaynor Faye, team leader Sinead said: "You have no idea the excitement in our team when we were told we were shortlisted.

"We are very, very proud and over the moon to win. We are a really small team and we work quite hard and don't usually focus on the impact we have.

Team leader and clinical nurse specialist Sinead Hutchinson
Team leader and clinical nurse specialist Sinead Hutchinson

"To get something like this is just fantastic and it is recognition not just for us but for the young people who come through our service and their families."

The team have been astonished at just how much winning our award has raised their profile.

Acting manager Sonya Jain said: "Winning the award definitely had people talking about what we do and helped create more awareness of eating disorders.

"We had parents ringing and grandparents ringing so it was a great way to signpost people to us to get help."

It is the team's experience that eating disorders are largely hidden and many young people can go for some time before anyone is aware of their illness which usually manifests itself through weight loss.

Yet as they know all too well, early intervention is key.

Once a child or young person is in their care at Antrim, they receive amazing support, which is organised both inside and outside of the hospital environment.

Team leader Sinead explained: "It is very unusual for young people to need immediate hospital care but we work closely with the paediatric unit in the hospital where there are beds available if needed. That is a last resort obviously.

"Usually the young people will come in to see us three to four times a week and they also benefit from intensive treatment at home.

Winners of the Spirit of Health award, the Eating Disorder Team from CAMHS at Antrim Area Hospital collect their award from Aideen Duggan, from category sponsor Keenan Healthcare and Gaynor Faye. Also pictured are ambassadors from title sponsor Specsavers, Nicola and Alison Crimmins. The Eating Disorder Team was one of ten winners at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Winners of the Spirit of Health award, the Eating Disorder Team from CAMHS at Antrim Area Hospital collect their award from Aideen Duggan, from category sponsor Keenan Healthcare and Gaynor Faye. Also pictured are ambassadors from title sponsor Specsavers, Nicola and Alison Crimmins. The Eating Disorder Team was one of ten winners at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Specsavers. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

"Most of the children we deal with are between the ages of 12 and 18, although we have had a few as young as eight and nine years old."

Since our awards last year, referrals have risen and the team has had more boys than ever come to the service for help in the past year.

Sonya said: "We've seen an increase in boys coming through, mainly between the ages of 14 and 18. Usually there aren't as many boys as girls coming into the service. It tends to be harder for boys to admit than it would be for girls.

"It also tends to be young boys who are more into exercise and for them it is all about the physique and their body and they are seeing images of the 'perfect' body and they want to have the same.

"For girls it is about being thin and they often see being thin as the best thing and the one thing that will make them happy and successful and help them to achieve in life."

Sonya added: "Eating disorders now have the highest mortality rates of all mental illness except for suicide as there is a physical component as well as a mental health component."

The prognosis is obviously worse the longer a patient has had the illness before they seek help, so early intervention is the aim. The team has been boosting recovery rates with a mentorship programme they introduced and also a parent's support group.

Young people who have been discharged have come back to speak to other young people who are undergoing treatment and because they have been through it the patients can really relate to them.

One grateful mum summed up their impact on her daughter: "My daughter has lived with anorexia for a long time and it's only because of the CAMHS team recognising the illness that she is here today.

"They have worked with her tirelessly and supported our whole family. They have saved not just my daughter's life but many other children. They are true lifesavers."

If you know someone who deserves a Spirit of Northern Ireland Award you only have until Thursday to nominate at sundaylife.co.uk/spirit

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