The COVID-19 pandemic sparked changes to eating disorder treatment availability for adults across southern B.C., resulting in closures of inpatient beds and lower acceptance rates to programs.
“It’s really gone downhill,” said Shaely Ritchey, co-founder of the Vancouver Island Voices for Eating Disorders (VIVED), based in Victoria. “The two inpatient beds in Victoria at Royal Jubilee Hospital shut down and have not reopened.”
On top of limitations to program availability, the stress of the lockdowns in combination with isolation left many people needing help.
“Those who come to our peer group started struggling more,” Ritchey said. “Even programs like those at St. Paul’s [Hospital in Vancouver] and South Vancouver Island [Eating Disorders Program] stated that they definitely saw a rise in eating disorders.”
Most programs for eating disorders for adults in B.C. are outpatient services, meaning the individual does not stay at the hospital or treatment centre overnight.
The most prominent programs include the South Vancouver Island Eating Disorders program, a Victoria-based program operated by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Island Health Eating Disorders Programs (serving Cowichan, Central and Northern Vancouver Island) and the St. Paul’s Hospital Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program, based out of Vancouver.
In 2019, the South Island program switched from individual to group-based programming, and also made it a referral-based program.
“Groups definitely have a use alongside individual support, but it can be challenging for a person if they are uncomfortable in group settings,” Ritchey said.
In 2021, the South Island program experienced staffing shortages and shut down all adult services. They have since reopened but with a smaller intake capacity.
Eating disorders come in many forms, including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa or Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). According to 2019 data from Island Health, it is estimated that more than 3,000 people suffer from eating disorders across Vancouver Island.
“People are doing the best they can, and staff are doing their best, too, with whatever resources they have,” Ritchey said. “For people who are struggling, this means they often have to use a lot of persistence to get help.”
Black Press requested an interview with Island Health but was told no one was available. An emailed statement from Island Health said “for people who are medically stable, the primary focus for eating disorder supports is through community-based programs and services.”
Eating disorders can be life-long conditions, and fatal if left untreated. Anyone seeking help or information can visit keltyeatingdisorders.ca.
Black Press Media has prepared a resource guide filled with Greater Victoria-based organizations and local information on mental health illnesses and substance use disorders. Find the guide online at vicnews.com under e-editions.