Belfast Telegraph

‘The things I saw in a mental health ward have left me scarred’

By Allan Preston

Ali North first started struggling with anorexia in her teens 30 years ago.

Now the Coleraine woman has written a book - An & I - about her battle to overcome the disease.

"To me it's been like another persona that controls and beats you up to be this perfect person," she said.

"That makes you feel you don't deserve to eat properly or look after yourself, that's the control."

She first approached her GP at school when her weight dropped to seven stone.

"I was told my weight wasn't low enough to admit me to hospital and that I should come back after I'd lost half-a-stone," she said.

"That was music to my ears, so I took great pleasure in losing that weight quickly in a very unhealthy manner.

"I got admitted immediately and was put on two weeks' forced bedrest. That was the only way I could be referred for psychiatric help."

The one positive, she said, was that she was referred to a "fantastic psychiatrist", who treated her for 25 years.

"Unfortunately, when I was at university the condition deteriorated and I agreed to go into a hospital mental health ward," she added. "I totally appreciate the reason for her (the psychiatrist) putting me there, but the things I saw will scar me for life.

"I was in with different people with extreme mental health problems and bizarre behaviour. People were carried away to these rooms to get electro convulsive therapy, it just wasn't conducive to helping people."

She said she would support a dedicated eating disorder unit here.

"Today I manage my condition, but when I heard about Sophie Bridges' story I was very saddened. I try to stress to anyone I speak to, it's not about how you look and what you eat, it's about how you feel about it. There's a massive difference there.

"Mental health still doesn't have the high agenda of physical symptoms. When there's so many mental health problems, mental health's just a very small subset.

"It doesn't get the budget or financial support it deserves.

"There was an extra £50m announced for mental health services here, that's fantastic but how much will go towards eating disorders?"

Belfast Telegraph

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