New centre provides hope for eating disorder sufferers

By Stephanie Hayne
For those affected by eating disorders, one word holds greater power than any other — hope. And it’s hope that compelled three Ottawa mothers to develop the area’s first eating disorders support centre.

Frustrated by the lack of services available to them, Joanne Curran, Lucyna Neville and Shelley Shusterman created Hopewell, a not-for-profit organization.

Curran, Hopewell’s pres-ident, says working with the centre gives the women a way to help their daughters, all of whom suffer from anorexia nervosa.

“As a parent, you expect to be able to fix things for your children and prevent them from suffering unnecessarily,” says Curran, whose 14 year-old daughter, Bridget, developed anorexia at age 12 and spent half of 1999 in the hospital.

“I just felt hopeless,” she says. “I thought, ‘she’s never going to get out of this. She’s going to end up as one of the statistics.’ Speaking with other parents is what gave me hope.”

Peer support groups for parents, teens and adults are currently run out of rented space, but Curran says the centre plans to have a permanent residence by the end of this fall.

The centre is modeled after Sheena’s Place in Toronto and will offer similar services at no charge, including a resource centre, a telephone help line, body image and skillbuilding programs, and self-help groups.

Gaelen Hart says she wishes a centre like Hopewell had been available to her in the early stages of her recovery from bulimia nervosa.

Hart, 19, says her eating disorder began when she was 14 and until recently she was unwilling to seek help.

“If getting help meant I was going to gain weight, I didn’t want to do it,” she says. “Being thin was more important than having a sane frame of mind.”

Eating disorders play tricks on the mind, says Dr. Gonzalo Araujo, a psychiatrist who sits on Hopewell’s board of directors.

Arajo says he puts patients in a room where a lamp casts a perfect shadow of the individual on the wall. He gives the patient a marker and asks her to trace her silhouette.

“It’s amazing how much they miss,” he says. “They add up to 10 per cent to their shadow.

Hopewell works in partnership with the Ottawa Eating Disorder Clinic and the treatment centres at Ottawa Hospital General Campus and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Curran says these centres are generally swamped with patients and it can take up to three months to be admitted.

For now, she says Hopewell will offer support and information to those suffering from eating disorders. The centre plans to raise $250,000 this year, says Curran, adding, she’s optimistic about what Hopewell can do for the community.

“I’m sure that there are so many families affected by eating disorders and yet their voices have gone unheard,” says Curran.

One of those voices belonged to Joyce Gagnon. Gagnon’s daughter, Genevieve, lost her 10-year battle with anorexia and bulimia at the age of 21.

After Genevieve’s death, Gagnon wrote an article calling for someone to organize a support centre in Ottawa.

Curran, Neville and Shusterman answered that call and Hopewell is dedicated to the memory of Genevieve.