How an Aussie mum navigated an eating disorder, COVID lockdowns and homeschooling three kids
“I always thought I’d be better by the time I was 40 – at least that’s what I told myself.”
That’s what Melbourne mother of three and small business owner Jade Roberts told 7NEWS.com.au when she decided to speak out about her mental health for the first time after it took a turn for the worse in 2021.
Jade has been living with an eating disorder for as long as she can remember, but it’s something she always thought she would “grow out of”.
However, in 2021 Jade became overburdened and her mental health took a backseat to her responsibilities as a mum, a businesses owner and, for a while during lockdown, a homeschool teacher.
As a keen athlete, Jade relied on activities such as sport to create a world “outside of her disorder”. But when this routine was taken away from her, she struggled to find something else to fill that void.
“Suddenly, I had lost access to the things that helped me stay as well as possible,” Jade told 7NEWS.com.au
“It became this constant wrestle with managing the daily pursuit of mental wellbeing against the sudden and continued loss of the coping strategies I relied on.”
Requests for help denied
When reaching out for support during this time, Jade quickly became frustrated by the stigma she faced.
“I looked well, I’m considered high functioning and have my own business so it’s like people turned a blind eye, but the reality was I wasn’t OK,” she said.
“I also think a lot of people see eating disorders as something people only experience at a young age during adolescence.
“And I personally also thought I’d be better by the time I was 40.
“But now at 41, I think it’s important to accept that, like any chronic or mental illness, they are something you just learn to manage.”
Jade also reached out to her children’s school but was “disappointed” by their lack of support during this time.
“I reached out to our local primary school with medical records to get onsite learning support and to help to manage homeschooling when I was actually very unwell,” she said.
“ ‘I think a lot of people see eating disorders as something people only experience at a young age’“
“But my requests for help were repeatedly knocked back. “
Jade’s health continued to decline after her requests for help were also rejected at a state education department level.
Jade continued to fight for her health and for her family to get help and eventually was able to get the support of an ED specialist for a short time as well as a sports psychologist.
“They helped me to adapt and cope with the new normal,” she said.
As restrictions eased and life returned to normal, Jade’s health improved. However, she says her mental health is still a constant battle with private therapy not always a sustainable option.
Now, Jade wants to encourage meaningful conversations to raise awareness and get better support for those impacted by eating disorders.
“It’s so important that we ‘change the picture’ that surrounds those who need support; anyone can be suffering the impact of an eating disorder – all shapes, sizes, stories and backgrounds,” she said.
“Generations before us have kept things quiet and private, but this hasn’t helped encourage those who need help to seek it out sooner rather than later.”
A ‘perfect storm’ for those struggling
At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the demand for eating disorder services in Australia spiked dramatically.
One report showed presentations to the Royal Children’s Hospital eating disorder service increased by 63 per cent during 2020 compared with the previous three years.
CEO of the Butterfly Foundation Kevin Barrow told 7NEWS.com.au the pandemic created a “perfect storm” for those who were struggling.
“There’s a real degree of social isolation and a disruption to people’s routines including their ability to seek help,” he said.
“‘There currently aren’t even enough beds to support everyone that needs help’ – CEO of the Butterfly Foundation Kevin Barrow“
“And also an increase in the use of things like social media which, whilst it can be positive in terms of connection, can be very dangerous for someone who is living with an eating disorder.
“So as a consequence of a lot of those things we saw a real surge in demand to our national helpline, well over a 50 per cent increase compared to previous years.”
Mr Barrow said not only did the helpline experience a huge spike in demand, but eating disorder services all over Australia were also facing similar pressures.
“We haven’t even really seen the full impacts of COVID play out yet in terms of mental health impacts,” he said.
“And there currently aren’t even enough beds to support everyone that needs help.
“While we have been fortunate enough to secure some additional funding from the federal government, I think at a state government level more still needs to be done, and we will continue to advocate for that.”
If you or anyone you know has an eating disorder, or if you would like information, referrals or counselling for eating disorders, disordered eating or body image concerns, contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 3673 or butterfly.org.au