BEAT Cymru is encouraging people in Cardiff to wear silly socks to help raise funds as part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
The national campaign is taking place this week to improve the understanding of serious mental illnesses and challenge the damaging stereotypes associated with anorexia and bulimia.
The number of people who suffer from eating disorders in Wales is estimated at more than 50,000 and this number is increasing with around 1,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Despite such high figures, there is no specialist in-patient unit in Cardiff to provide feeding clinics and concentrated psychological treatment for severe cases. Patients from South Wales must travel to Marlborough in Wiltshire to receive such treatment.
Natalie McCulloch, 24, who lives in Cardiff, was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and now works hard to overcome her anorexia and regain a normal weight and eating habits. She said: “I definitely think there needs to be serious service development in Cardiff for eating disorder services. Having a specialist unit in Wales is extremely necessary and something I really hope will develop soon, there certainly is a call for such.
“Just seeing the amount of Welsh people (in fact Cardiff people) who ended up in the specialist unit with me in England says a lot.
“I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. I only got through this because of my amazing friends and family.”
Beat Cymru is carrying out a campaign to increase understanding during Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The organisation will be holding a sock puppet workshop on February 14 at Cardiff University Students Union to raise awareness and help support people suffering from eating disorders.
Manon Haf Lewis, 23, from Carmarthen spent one and a half years of her life at the specialist treatment centre in Marlborough. After being diagnosed with anaorexia at 14, she is now an ambassador for Beat Cymru and hopes to raise awareness in schools and the NHS about the realities and misconceptions surrounding anorexia. Ms Lewis lost a friend to anorexia because she did not receive the treatment she desperately needed.
“I don’t want what happened to my friend to happen to anyone else. I have only got through this because of my amazing friends and family.”
“It is a massive jump for people leaving the in-patient unit in Marlborough because they are used to receiving one-to-one support 24 hours a day. In England they have day centres to help the transition, but there is nothing like that in Wales.”
Adriana Copland, South Wales project officer for Beat Cymru, said: “It is vital facilities and support are developed to enable sufferers to be treated as close to home as possible and not be referred to services outside of Wales.
“This distance can make the situation even more upsetting and traumatic for families who are already going through a tough time. There is a real gap in services in Wales for severe cases.”
Student Run Self Help (SRSH) Cardiff is also raising awareness by hosting a Mind Your Head gig at the North Star on February 12 and organising a two-day charity clothes shop.
A spokesperson for SRSH Cardiff said: “One of the main problems is accessing even primary care as vulnerable patients need to go through a lot of hoop jumping in order to be assessed and referred to a specialist.
“The lack of services in Wales for severe anorexia cases also creates problems for workers who have to travel to Wiltshire to carry out regular checks and treatments.”