'I feel like I'm at home very slowly dying' — anorexia sufferer hits out at lack of services

'I feel like I'm at home very slowly dying' — anorexia sufferer hits out at lack of services

Emma-Jane Stoker-Phelan has suffered from, and received treatment for, anorexia nervosa on and off for the past 12 years.

A Dublin musician said she feels like she is “at home, very slowly dying” due to the lack of services available to help treat her eating disorder.

Emma-Jane Stoker-Phelan has suffered from, and received treatment for, anorexia nervosa on and off for the past 12 years.

The provider she was previously attending for treatment said they had no further resources to offer her.

She was due to attend the National Eating Disorder Recovery Centre in September but her insurer has not given the go ahead, meaning she has been unable to be admitted.

“Now I’m in a position where I actually can’t get treatment, despite it being deemed severe. It’s a very frustrating position to be in,” she said.

“I want it to stop. I want the help. The only option is for me to be referred elsewhere but everywhere is full at the moment. I have to start the entire process again with the assessments, tests and waiting lists.” 

This situation is “very contradictory and disconcerting”, she said.

I don’t know where it leaves me. It feels like I don’t matter, that my life isn’t worth doing anything about it.

As a result of the lack of support she is currently receiving, she is effectively bed-bound and has had to stop working.

“I have no quality of life. I faint constantly. I’m covered in bruises. I’m at the point now that I can’t even sit on a chair because the bones in my spine are cutting into my skin,” she said.

“I’m deficient in pretty much everything. My hair is falling out. I can’t concentrate. I’m existing, but there’s no life there at all. It’s a bleak existence.” 

Ms Stoker-Phelan is due to get married in July, but her GP has told her that “I’m not going to be here by then if I continue at this rate”.

Recent research found that the Covid-19 pandemic created a "perfect storm" for people affected by eating disorders with relapses, newly diagnosed cases and intensified problems for those already living with the condition.

The study, from Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, and the School of Sociology at University College Dublin, referred to figures which show a 66% increase in hospital admissions for eating disorders among children and adolescents since the start of the pandemic.

In 2018, €1.5m was allocated for the development of eating disorder services across Ireland, but just €137,000 was spent.

In 2019, none of the €1.6m allocation was spent. In 2020, meanwhile, there was no allocation of funding to the plan.

Emma-Jane Stoker-Phelan: "The only option is for me to be referred elsewhere but everywhere is full at the moment. I have to start the entire process again with the assessments, tests and waiting lists.” 
Emma-Jane Stoker-Phelan: "The only option is for me to be referred elsewhere but everywhere is full at the moment. I have to start the entire process again with the assessments, tests and waiting lists.” 

Asked about what it was doing to assist individuals with eating disorders, a spokeswoman for the HSE said it published a national model of care [MOC] for eating disorders in January 2018.

“The MOC is the blueprint for the HSE to roll out specialist eating disorder services in Ireland to address the current unmet need for specialist eating disorder service within HSE,” the spokeswoman said.

“The MOC has a core focus on developing regional community-based specialist eating disorder services provided by skilled multidisciplinary teams.” 

There are currently three eating disorder specialist teams, the spokeswoman added, all of which have seen an increase in demand during the pandemic.

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