SUFFERERS of eating disorders living in regional locations are calling for better access to support.
New figures released this week by the Butterfly Foundation indicated more than 280,000 Australians battled an eating disorder while living in regional, remote and very remote communities like Wagga.
The key issue of living in those RRR communities was travel distance and a division of support networks, according to those in the field.
"When people do seek help and start to receive treatment, our specialist services are based in Melbourne or Sydney so they have that tyranny of distance, as well as the battle of staying where their personal support network is verses where the health support is," Wodonga-based mental health nurse Haylee Adamson said.
"Then, there's cost and time."
While Mrs Adamson was based in Victoria, which follows different guidelines to accessing support, she said Wagga was in a similar position in terms of services available.
"Wagga is not dissimilar to Albury-Wodonga in many ways," she said.
"It has that same distance from bigger cities like Sydney, and a lot of commonalities around being away from a home environment, the time, the cost, the isolation.
"You can't attend things like support groups on a daily or even regular basis because it is all so far away."
The Butterfly Foundation's latest campaign, MAYDAY 2020 #PushingPastPostcodes, aims to improve access to affordable and safe eating disorder treatment and recovery services for all Australians, irregardless of where they live.
Experts say COVID-19 is adding new pressure and isolation to the already significant challenges for people living with eating disorders in RRR Australia. The foundation's latest report outlined that the pandemic has impacted 80 per cent of surveyed Australians living with an eating disorder in RRR communities.
A mum of six and nurse from Albury, Tarsh, has lived experience with an eating disorder and said isolation was one of the hardest parts.
"Eating disorders love social isolation," she said.
"I needed a lot of care when I returned home from inpatient treatment in the city to help me become well and stay well, but living in a rural community just provided me with more challenges.
"It was hard enough to travel and access treatment in the city; the cost of care and accommodation and the travel to access inpatient services and specialists at various times all contributed to the guilt and stress it was putting on me and my family."
Butterfly Foundation CEO Kevin Barrow said it was time the barriers to vital treatments were knocked down.
"There should be no barrier to access comprehensive and lifesaving eating disorder treatment and services in RRR communities - be it geographic location, cost or complexity of the illness," he said.
"Eating disorders do not discriminate by postcode, age, gender, ethnic background, culture, size or shape. Living remotely and having to travel long distances for appropriate eating disorder treatment highlights the gaps in our health system."
Wodonga's Mrs Adamson suggested that the issue had advanced over the years, but was a long way off being at an acceptable standard.
"There is a greater awareness out there now, there's more funding and access to education is better, but there's still disconnect in mental and physical health, and who does the treatment," she said.
"We see the funding, we see what is offered in the city, and it can be frustrating especially when it just comes down to numbers and what might be considered as making a service worthwhile opening.
"We need to get away from city-centric focus, we need pockets of support regionally.
"A national credentialing system is also needed so you know that when a person is presenting with symptoms of an eating disorder, they are receiving the right care at the right time by the right person, and that their experience will be validated and heard."
Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact Butterfly's National Helpline 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14.