Speeches

Address by Tim O´Malley T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children to launch the pilot of BodywhysConnect on World Mental Health Day

I would like to thank Bodywhys for their invitation to launch the pilot of BodywhysConnect on World Mental Health Day, today, Thursday, 10th October.

BodywhysConnect

BodywhysConnect is an innovative on-line support service being developed by Bodywhys to further support people with eating disorders. I understand that Bodywhys is a national Charity which has done tremendous work in providing support for people with eating disorders and their families and friends. They also provide information, education and develop an understanding about eating disorders.

Eating disorders are secretive by their nature and also carry a certain stigma, which can create difficulties particularly in rural areas where people may not wish to identify themselves.

Bodywhys already runs support group meetings in several locations throughout the country but I am informed by Bodywhys that these groups have their limits.

Support groups can only be sustained in large population centres and people may have to travel long distances to attend, often also requiring private transport and/or parental driving. Moreover, body image issues are a major part of any eating disorder and in physical groups, where there are disparities in shapes and sizes, that group dynamic may be affected.

It has also been Bodywhys experience that men can also feel out of place in a group whereby the majority of the members are female. On-line support groups can provide the benefits of group support to those unable to physically attend.

Based on chat room technology, BodywhysConnect´s primary purpose is to reach as many people as possible.

Its advantages include accessibility as participants can access support to group members and effectively prevents physical comparisons and preconceptions.

Approximately half of Irish households now have access to a computer and one third of adults use the internet, half of which are under 25. This is the age group most affected by eating disorders.

Eating Disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can be extremely serious for those affected and their families. Although these conditions are not specific to either gender, they particularly affect women. The symptoms of the disorders may range from mild to severe.

Anorexia nervosa which affects approximately 1% of all adolescent females has been defined as an aversion to food due to psychological causes.

A slightly greater percentage of females of all ages are affected by bulimia nervosa. This has been defined as a mental disorder characterised by episodes of binge eating which continue until abdominal pain and self-induced vomiting occur. It differs from anorexia nervosa in that there is no extreme weight loss.

Services for Children and Adolescents with Eating Disorders

My colleague Mr. Micheál Martin T.D., the Minister for Health and Children, established a Working Group on Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in June, 2000.

The First Report of the Working Group was published on 1 March, 2001 and the Group has identified a number of issues for consideration in their Second Report on Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services for 16 – 18 year olds. It also proposes to examine the needs of persons suffering from an eating disorder and how they can best be developed in the short, medium and long term in its next report. The Working Group has already invited submissions from interested parties on how the needs of persons suffering from an eating disorder can best be met. Bodywhys was one of the parties to give submissions to the Working Group on this topic

Voluntary Organisations

Today is an excellent opportunity to discuss the future direction of the mental health services and the challenges posed for voluntary organisations. An occasion such as this enables us to acknowledge and recognise the importance and value of the work of your volunteers in responding to the needs of those people with eating disorders.

I would like to re-emphasise the Government´s commitment to encourage, in any way it can, the activities of our many voluntary organisations both at national and local level. In today´s busy world the recruitment of volunteers presents a major challenge to all voluntary organisations as people, especially young people, have so many demands on their time. It is important that the public be made aware of the immense work done by voluntary organisations.

Conclusion

The future of our mental health services holds many challenges. I am certain however, that the way forward can be made easier and more productive through the continued co-operation of both the state and voluntary organisations.

In conclusion, I would like, once again, to thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Jennifer Kelly, Chairwoman of Bodywhys on its many achievements to date and to wish you continuing success in your work.