The eating disorder sector in Australia is struggling to keep up with the increasing need for services.  Unfortunately, individuals and families are facing increasing waitlists to access health professionals with specialist eating disorder training. Knowing that there is a concern and reaching out for help, only to be told that there is a waitlist for appointments can be frustrating and worrying. So, what can you do in the meantime?

Regular appointments with a GP

It’s really important that an individual with an eating disorder has regular appointments with their GP. This provides you with a space to have a chat about concerns, but also importantly allows the GP to ensure that you are medically stable.

Often cancellation availabilities with Psychologists come up at quite short notice. It’s a good idea to get any paperwork from your GP, such as an Eating Disorder Plan, prepared in advance, so that everything is ready to go if you are offered a last minute appointment. (Also note that in order to access the maximum number of sessions available under an Eating Disorder Plan, there is a requirement to be reviewed by a Psychiatrist or Paediatrician. As specialists often have long waitlists, we would recommend booking an appointment or going on a waitlist for a Psychiatrist and Paediatrician as soon as possible.)

Use online or telephone counselling services

There are a few different online/telephone counselling services available, some of which are specific to eating concerns. If you feel like you need to talk to someone, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can choose whether you feel more comfortable talking to someone on the phone or using a web chat.

Join a support group and explore group treatment options

There are a number of support groups, both online and in person, specific to eating disorders. These support groups often have practical tips from others who are experiencing similar concerns. When engaging in online forums, always remember that you can take a break at any time if you are finding others’ comments unhelpful.

For individuals living with an eating disorder:

For carers/families:

Engage your support system

Let your loved ones and support people know you are struggling. Let them know you are waiting to start therapy and may need some extra support in the next little while. Help them understand how they can help you – What’s the best way to check in with you? What are some helpful things they can say? How can they help distract you when you are feeling upset?

Consider self-help options

While you wait for therapy, you can explore some self-help options to see if there are any changes you can incorporate in the meantime. We have listed some recommendations below. While not a substitute for therapy, these books often contain helpful information and ideas on how to begin making changes.

Guides for Parents/Carers:

Keep up a self-care routine as much as possible.

When you are struggling, prioritising self-care can feel overwhelming. But wherever possible, incorporating little bits of self-care throughout the day can be helpful for your mental health. Don’t feel like you must action all of the below ideas in one go – any small changes can help improve your mental health. Do what feels achievable.

  • Establish a routine where you get out of bed and go to sleep at similar times each day. If you feel up to it, add activities such as showering and tidying your space into this routine.
  • Move your body in ways that feel good. Perhaps some gentle stretching or yoga, or time in the garden.
  • Spend time with friends or family who support you and help your mood. Consider scheduling in a Zoom catch up if in lockdown.
  • Schedule in things throughout the day that you enjoy – music, drawing, reading, time with pets. Whatever activities help distract you and give you pleasure.
  • Have a ‘time out’ from social media – this might be anything from 15 minutes a day, to a complete break. If you don’t feel like you want to take a break entirely, have a think about if the content on your feed is helpful. If not, actively unfollow accounts that don’t make you feel good.
  • Try a meditation or mindfulness activity, such as the Calm or Headspace app. There are also lots of options on YouTube, such as the below.

We hope a few of the above might be helpful.

It can be an anxiety-provoking time while on a waitlist and it’s far from ideal. We hope that some of the above tips may help you look after your mental health while you wait for therapy. You may also like to read our resources for parents and carers post. Please share any of your recommendations in the comments so that others can try these ideas too.

If things start to deteriorate while you are waiting for therapy, make sure you discuss these concerns with your GP, who can point you in the direction of additional supports. If you have immediate concerns about wellbeing, you can contact the Mental Health Line, which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 011 511. You can also present to the emergency department if there are any concerns regarding safety or medical stability.