Anorexia teen told she had weeks to live hails care unit that nursed her back to health
A Co Tyrone teenager who was told last year that anorexia could kill her within weeks has bravely spoken out about her recovery.
Caitlin Lynch (15), from Castlederg, first developed the eating disorder two years ago, which saw her weight drop to dangerous levels.
Her health is now greatly improved thanks to a six-month stay at the Beechcroft unit in south Belfast - Northern Ireland's only inpatient facility for children with mental health problems - and she has shared her experience to give others hope.
"It was a constant nightmare battling the demons inside my head," she said in a candid post on Facebook.
Showing pictures before and after her treatment, she added that being thin was only one symptom of the disease.
"There's constantly that voice telling you you're fat, worthless and don't deserve to eat.
"There's the constant arguments with family about food. There's the days where you feel so low, you wish the world would just swallow you up."
Now focused on her recovery, Caitlin, along with her mother Mel (41), spoke to the Belfast Telegraph about how rapidly the eating disorder took hold.
"For me, it started out small by watching what I was eating and exercising more," she said.
"Eventually that spiralled into eating practically nothing every day and exercising constantly, it developed really quickly in a matter of weeks.
"I was off and on with it for about a year and my weight just dropped so low."
She remained in "complete denial" before being admitted to Beechcroft.
"When I went to see Child and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS), I realised it wasn't just nothing.
"Eventually I was given the option of being detained or I had to volunteer myself to go in; that was another eye-opening point for me and I was definitely at my lowest point."
The support of other young people at Beechcroft proved to be a major help.
"It made me realise 'I don't want to live like this for ever', because I was absolutely miserable.
"They really motivated me, and my family really helped as well."
Since going public she said the positive response had been overwhelming.
"It's been amazing, so many people have contacted me to say that it's great that they're not alone.
"Even people who don't have an eating disorder have been messaging me."
Although in a much better place, the Loreto Grammar School pupil said she can still struggle with low moods and a negative body image.
"Drawing has helped and I also learned how to do crochet in Beechcroft," she said.
"I go out to see my friends a lot as well, that keeps me distracted and keeps my mood up.
"You have to eat every day, so that is quite difficult, but the more you distract yourself, the easier it gets. I just hope this raises awareness for eating disorders and other mental illnesses. "I'd also call for more support for the services available as I've had friends who have been told there's no more spaces at Beechcroft because it's so understaffed at the moment.
"That means that some people who are 16-17, or even younger, get sent to adult wards."
Last month the BBC reported that a small number of young people were admitted to adult mental health wards due to a shortage of specialist staff.
Some admissions were also delayed while beds on suitable wards were found.
A spokesperson at the time said this was due to a "challenging nursing workforce position" and that a contingency plan was in place to bring in additional staff.
Caitlin's mother Mel said she was in "complete shock" when she was first told her daughter had anorexia.
"We're so proud of her for telling her story, just last year she felt so embarrassed by it," she said.
"In the space of a year the transformation and the way she's thinking is brilliant.
"It's been an awful year, to be quite honest. I didn't even notice the problems with her eating at first, I saw she was picking at her food, but I didn't realise she was hiding it in her pockets and throwing it down the sink."
To other parents, she said: "It's very hard, but they're not alone and I would just encourage them to get the help that's out there.
"It's hard to watch your child like that, especially when they don't want to eat or get help."
She continued: "Beechcroft were brilliant with Caitlin and I would highly recommend it."