Belfast Telegraph

Anorexia patient hits out at system after Sophie Bridge's death

By Allan Preston

An eating disorder patient from Armagh has warned of the "lethal" dangers of bulimia following the death of 21-year-old Sophie Bridges.

Sophie, a former Assumption Grammar pupil from Killyleagh, died from a heart attack on Saturday night after living with the condition since 2009.

Her mother Sharon spoke out about the lack of mental health services available for young people.

Felicity McKee (26), who knew Sharon and has lived with a form of anorexia for years, said Sophie's death had made her "very angry".

Felicity raises awareness about the eating disorder through competing in beauty pageants and she studied public health at Queen's University Belfast.

She said: "It was gut-wrenching and made me very angry but it did feel inevitable the way services are in Northern Ireland. I lost another friend to bulimia in England three weeks ago.

"People don't realise how lethal it can be."

Felicity suffers from an electrolyte shortage in her blood due to her condition, meaning she needs regular transfusions to avoid a heart attack.

In December she said she was terrified for her life after a 12-hour wait for treatment in A&E.

"It upsets me that Sophie and my stories are very similar," she said.

"I know Sophie's mum Sharon. She would ask after me when I was in hospital and I would ask after Sophie.

"Looking back, her death could have been avoided.

"Sharon had tried getting her a referral to England but got nowhere. I see this happening all over Northern Ireland. It's really upsetting when you see someone with so much potential who I believe has been basically cheated by the health service."

Bulimia sufferers will often maintain a normal body weight due to the binge and purge nature of the condition.

Felicity said this meant securing treatment was difficult.

"Sick should be sick enough.

"If you go to your GP and say you feel sick, you should be able to get a referral to a specialist team.

"Very few wake up looking like the stereotypical image of an eating disorder."

Felicity said another problem she encountered was the transition from child to adult services.

"I was discharged from child mental health services when I was 18. I was still enrolled because I had to repeat a school year," she explained. "Adult services didn't want to take me on because I was still in school and child services didn't want to know because I was legally an adult."

She also called for an improvement in follow-up care.

"If you're an in-patient at the psych ward in hospital and get discharged there's really poor follow-up care," she said.

"They basically weigh you once a week and you might get a therapist if you're lucky.

"I think going to England (because of the broader range of services available) is the only solution at the moment given the state of service in Northern Ireland."

This week the Belfast-based charity Eating Disorders NI said funding cuts were stifling the NHS and the voluntary sector - meaning both the health service and charities were struggling to provide care.

Eating Disorders NI can be reached on 028 9023 5959, or visit eatingdisordersni.co.uk.

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