By Georgia Indian, produced for online by Natalie Brown

Despite having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disease, Anorexia Nervosa is amongst the lowest government-funded illnesses, with some of the most expensive treatment costs.

In a study released by the Butterfly Foundation, patients were found to be forking out tens of thousands of dollars for treatment in both the public and private health care systems, leaving one in three patients in debt, and one in four having to stop treatment completely.

While a mental health care plan will provide Medicare rebates for 10 sessions with a specialist, health experts say a minimum of 40 sessions would be needed to see results.

University of Canberra physiologist and expert in eating disorders, Dr Vivienne Lewis, says treatment of the disease is a complex issue with many factors affecting the number of patients being treated.

“It’s very expensive to get treatment for an eating disorder,” says Dr Lewis.

“It takes a very long time for treatment – it can span over a two-year period, so people look for public health services as much as they possibly can, and there simply isn’t enough to meet the need.”

Eating Disorders Association clinical psychologist Melissa Marks says in order to reduce the number of patients ending up in hospitals, more thorough methods of recognising disorders in the early stages of professional help need to be implemented.

“The numbers are increasing and I think we’re not entering that down to the first catchment, which is often GPs,” says Marks, adding that proper training is needed to make sure signs of disorders are quickly picked up.

Red House, eating disorder treatment centre, managing director Mary Jane Lawson, says despite the need for more funding, a new approach to the way we treat this disease is the crucial next step to reducing fatality-related numbers.

“The same treatments have been around for the last 30 years, and they’re just not working,” says Lawson.

“We desperately need a new approach.”

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has asked the Medicare review committee to look at whether new treatment options for eating disorders could be made available under Medicare.

The Medical Benefits Schedule Review report is due later this year.

If you or anyone you know needs help with an eating disorder, you can contact the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.