Teachers trained to help students with eating disorders in Australian first

Victorian secondary school staff are being trained to identify disordered eating in students, in a pioneering, Australian-first program.

Food For Thought – created by headspace in partnership with the Victorian Government – was launched today at Buckley Park College in Essendon and will initially be rolled out in 116 schools across the State.

Victorian Minister for Mental Health, Martin Foley, said Food For Thought will increase the confidence, skills and knowledge of school staff to identify early, intervene appropriately and support young people who may be experiencing disordered eating.

”Eating disorders can have a severe impact on the physical, social and emotional development of a person – Food for Thought improves how we deal with this problem”.

“Empowering secondary school staff to proactively identify issues around disordered eating means they may well be saving young lives.” - Mr Foley said.
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headspace Head of Clinical Practice, Vikki Ryall, said Food For Thought will fill an education void for schools, parents and the wider community around disordered eating and its many forms.

“Disordered eating can be any disturbed and unhealthy eating pattern and can include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals’,” she said. “It can also cover a number of mental health issues including anorexia, bulimia and obesity.” Ms Ryall also stressed that teachers and school staff are not diagnosing young people under the program.

18-year-old Isla Milne, who completed high school in 2016, has lived experience with an eating disorder. Ms Milne said if Food For Thought had existed when she was at school, it would have helped her by allowing eating disorders to be discussed openly. “It would also have made teachers aware of the long term effects and seriousness of the illness, as well as being aware of triggers and symptoms to look for,” she said.  “If I could say anything to teachers at schools, it would be to notice your students.”

Eighty-seven schools across 14 different Local Government Areas have already undergone Food For Thought training. It’s hoped the program will extend to all schools across Victoria, and to other States.

The six, Food For Thought modules will result in the competent training of staff through:

  • understanding disordered eating;
  • noticing early warning signs;
  • inquiring with sensitivity and competency;
  • planning the next steps with families;
  • supporting a student post-diagnosis;
  • initiating change within a school environment
Disordered eating can have a destructive impact on a person’s life and has been linked to a reduced ability to cope with stressful situations. There is also an increased incidence of suicidal thoughts and behaviours in adolescents with disordered eating.

Some risk factors of disordered eating:

  • The development of a clinical eating disorder
  • Weight gain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fatigue and poor sleep quality
  • Constipation and/or diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps
  • 9 per cent of Australians will experience an eating disorder across their lifetime
    • It is estimated that approximately 1 million people in Australia are currently living with an eating disorder;
    • This equates to around two young people in every classroom in Victoria and across the nation;
  • Only one in six people with an eating disorder will get treatment;
  • Eating disorders affect both males and females of all backgrounds and ages
    • Approximately one third of those diagnosed are male and for some specific eating disorders the diagnoses is closer to 50 per cent;
  • Eating disorders can be fatal. The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of all psychiatric illnesses and over twelve times higher than for people without eating disorders;
  • People who have had an eating disorder for less than two years are likely to respond far more quickly to treatment, and experience fewer health consequences. Early identification and prompt intervention are required to reduce the severity, duration and impact of eating disorders;
  • Body image has been listed as one of the top three concerns for young Australians for the last 8 years in a row (Mission Australia national youth survey 2009-2016).

*source Food For Thought resource guide

For further information please contact:
Michael Bennett
headspace Media & Communications Manager
mbennett@headspace.org.au or 0413 025 385
If you are going through a tough time, you can, visit your local headspace centre