Silver Linings Foundation supports Albertans suffering from eating disorders (EDs) as well as the loved ones who care for them. We believe recovery from this serious illness is possible and that everyone deserves access to the care they need. SLF was established in 2014 by a group of dedicated parents, clinicians, and community members with a vision to bridge gaps in accessibility and care of eating disorders in Alberta.
We have offered support groups to community since 2014 and have expanded that to include groups for specific disorders, youth groups, family and caregiving groups, special workshops, peer mentoring support and the development of many online resources. In 2019 we opened the The Hub, a rented space in Calgary’s Beltline where the community can access therapists, dieticians and support groups for eating disorder recovery.
The community supports we currently offer are integral to recovery but they only address a part of the problem facing ED recovery in the province. Many people are unaware of the complexities of EDs and misconceptions around the illness can lead to lack of support. Eating disorders are a serious mental illness as classified in the DSM-V. They are often associated with food, body weight and body shape but are always rooted in deeper psychological issues. A common myth is EDs are only experienced by affluent young white women, but countless data sources show EDs impact all populations regardless of age, sex, race or socio-economic status.
By the Numbers
The illness can also be life threatening, with the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness, including depression.1 in 5 affected young people die from the illness or its complications (Pedram et al 2021). ED is often kept secret which can perpetuate an environment of shame and prevent people from getting appropriate care. The numbers are higher than most people think. 4.5% of 4.4 million Albertans means that 198,000 people in Alberta are suffering from an eating disorder at any given time (Galmiche et al 2019). The COVID pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.
Who needs live-in treatment?
Currently in Alberta, we have hospital beds and outpatient services in place (although not enough) and Alberta Health Services is creating a Calgary inpatient unit for ED in 2024 (unofficial). Hospital admissions, on average, last 2 to 3 weeks with the goal of medically stability (heart and electrolytes). Patients in acute crisis often experience a dangerously low heart rate and blood pressure. Young people with severe illness are sometimes admitted to hospital up to eight times before being ready to engage in recovery behaviours. It’s important to note that medical stability is not the same as being recovered. Hospital discharge is often the point where families feel ill-equipped to support their loved one if there are no live-in treatment options available.
How many young people with EDs could benefit from live-in treatment? It is estimated that 65% of people with ED can recover through self-management, therapists, dieticians and outpatient day program services. Up to 30% of people need live-in treatment to recover and up to 5% of people with severe illness need to be admitted to hospital for medical stabilization.
The Recovery Place
Establishing The Recovery Place will be life changing news for the youth (and families) who suffer from the devastating effects of ED. It will mean that there are accessible live-in beds right here in our province. It will allow caregivers, families and loved ones to visit and be part of the treatment process. Ultimately, we know this means less young people will die from this mental illness. In addition to the human cost savings, direct costs that will be diverted by having a recovery centre include:
• Public Healthcare costs from repeat admissions / drastic lifesaving interventions
• Lost earnings of sufferers and caregivers while a young person is ill
• Short and long term disability costs to employers
• Healthcare system savings; live-in treatment saves approximately $41,000 per patient (based on 3 admissions for 4 weeks each) in Calgary hospitals
by eliminating re-admissions to hospital. Live-in treatment would increase capacity to the system and decrease wait times for acutely compromised patients.
A Strategy for Change
While live-in treatment fills a much-needed gap in care, our province is still missing essential research and valuable insights from the lived-experience of people with eating disorders. With the help of facilitators, we already begun to employ human-centred design tactics to engage community in co-design exploration of what future supports and services could look like. We already know this type of work doesn’t end with one session, which is we are developing an initiative to focus specifically on deepening our collective understanding of eating disorders. In tandem with the Recovery Place, SLF is developing a Community Care Centre of Excellence, a space that will bring researchers, clinicians and people with lived experience together to expand our understanding around all facets of eating disorders from early intervention, treatment, long term recovery of eating disorders. SLF is dedicated to understanding the needs of community and improving efficacy of supports through community input. We know making a meaningful contribution to community will be a result of listening and responding.
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