They say nurses are like angels on earth. And it was a nurse in the emergency department who offered Serena Riley her first glimmer of hope when dealing with eating disorders.
With diet after diet under her wing, secretly fixating on body image, weight, shape and size helped Riley create an illusion of control. “Control was something I felt I had little of in other areas of my life,” she explained.
At the age of 19, she bravely confided in her mother about the eating disorder voice that had consumed her mind for close to a decade, and revealed her hidden struggle with bulimia.
For months on end Riley’s family desperately searched for help and when they couldn’t find any support, she attempted to take her own life. “When I realised … that I might indefinitely be stuck with this eating disorder, I gave up. Overcome with despair, I overdosed on medication.”
For Riley, the nurse in the emergency department became her lifeline, showing Riley that she had the strength to recover from such an insidious mental illness. “I was being brought in on a stretcher and she put her hand on my arm and said, ‘I’ve been where you are, and you can get better, it can get better.’
“I will never forget the glimmer of hope the nurse was able offer me.”
Paying it forward
Riley, now 29, is living proof eating disorder recovery is possible. The mother of three will lead the nursing team at Wandi Nerida, Australia’s first residential recovery centre for eating disorders, in her role as nurse unit manager.
Thanks to a $6 million Commonwealth contribution and significant support from philanthropy, Wandi Nerida is a purpose-built treatment facility located on 25 acres of serene bushland on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, 100 per cent owned and operated by the Butterfly Foundation. It will provide a much-needed bridge between hospital admission and outpatient care. With more than 600 expressions of interest to attend the facility, it is set to open its doors to its first participants next month.
The state-of-the-art, 13-bed residential treatment facility will operate under the Butterfly Foundation Residential Eating Disorders Treatment (B-FREEDT) Model of Care – an innovative approach that works in the Australian context while incorporating universally accepted best-practice clinical care.
Wandi Nerida executive director Jodie Ashworth says the opening of an international best-practice facility on Australian shores “will change lives and see Australia join the international leaders offering residential-based care recovery for eating disorders”.
“Isolation brought on by COVID-19 lockdown measures has seen a 57 per cent spike in demand for eating disorder support from the Butterfly Foundation Helpline in the past 12 months,” Ashworth says.
It is estimated that only 25 per cent of the one million Australians living with an eating disorder are getting treatment.
“At Wandi Nerida, patients will receive a phased treatment structure that addresses both symptoms and behaviour, as well as the underlying perpetuating psychological factors that cause the eating disorder,” Ashworth explains.
Wandi Nerida is a name gifted by local Elders of the Kabi Kabi nation that means to ‘gather together to blossom’.
“The tranquil setting and home-like features of Wandi Nerida will enable participants to envision recovery in a safe, nurturing and healing environment, while receiving intensive, person-centred treatment. They will also have access to evidence-based complementary therapies such as permaculture (ecopsychology) and equine-assisted psychotherapy,” adds Ashworth.
The facility is staffed by a multidisciplinary team of experts, about one-third of whom have their own lived experience. “I’m determined to show participants at Wandi Nerida that you can recover from an eating disorder,” says Riley. “I’m living proof of that.”
To support a Butterfly Bursary, enabling those without the financial means to access this valuable care, please go to butterfly.org.au/donate and select ‘Butterfly Bursaries’ on the drop-down menu.
For all donation-related enquiries contact Rebecca.Havas@butterfly.org.au
For information about how to apply to Wandi Nerida see wandinerida.hothealth.com/for-participants.
Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or firstname.lastname@example.org. For urgent support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14