Belfast Telegraph

Stormont 'must do more to tackle eating disorders'

By Amanda Ferguson

A woman battling anorexia nervosa is calling for Stormont to fund a dedicated health centre to tackle the scourge of eating disorders in Northern Ireland.

Cathie Kelly, from Newtownards, changed from a healthy teenager to a shadow of her former self after her desire to get fit spiralled into a life-threatening mental illness.

Brave Cathie and her mother Marilyn have opened up to the Belfast Telegraph about their experiences, as Cathie launches her thought-provoking blog cathiekellyonline.com

The 28-year-old is among a growing number of eating disorder patients raising serious concerns about how they are being treated here.

In 2013 some 307 adults and 109 young people in Northern Ireland were treated for eating disorders, with around 10 people sent to England for specialist treatment, at a cost of around £2m.

Given the often secretive behaviour of sufferers, this is believed to be the tip of the iceberg, with many people masking their illness and suffering in silence.

In a powerful interview with Una Brankin in today's Life section, Cathie explained eating disorders can impact anyone.

"Never in a million years did I think I'd have succumbed to this debilitating mental illness.

"As a child and teenager, I was happy, vivacious and so high-on-life that I chose to ignore any feelings of discontent towards my body. Yes, I was a 'bigger' girl. At 5ft 2in, I weighed around 11 stone at my heaviest.

"But I was pretty – I'd nice hair, wore trendy outfits and was never short of male attention."

In the summer of 2007 Cathie moved in with her now ex partner and weight loss was "almost instant".

She began restricting her calorie intake in a bid to gain the "taut, athletic body" she had always desired and qualified as a physical training instructor with the TA, as well as completing a marathon in 2009.

By 2010, she was excessively exercising and expected her body to survive on a "meagre 500 calories a day".

Her frail body, void of fat, was devouring muscle tissue to survive and following a leg injury that forced her to stop exercising she became depressed.

With support from friends, family and her employers, Cathie is trying to "mend the fractured relationship" between her mind and body and is using her new blog as an outlet for her health journey and to raise awareness of eating disorders.

"We don't have any in-patient facility in Northern Ireland specifically equipped to tackle anorexia. The only clinic to avail of is Woodstock Lodge in Belfast," she said. "One of my bugbears is the fact that anorexia has the highest death rates out of all mental illnesses, yet where's the help?"

No comment was available from the Department of Health last night.

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