Early intervention for eating disorder saves lives

This week (27th February – 5th March) is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and it is focusing on the importance of getting people into treatment as quickly as possible

Professor Ulrike Schmidt, Professor of Eating Disorders at King’s College London and Consultant Psychiatrist at SLaM, tells us about the FREED service (First episode and Rapid Early intervention for Eating Disorders) and how the vital work of the FREED team is helping to speed up treatment for young people with eating disorders.

Early intervention for eating disorder saves lives

One in every six to seven young women have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Recently, eating disorders have regularly ‘hit’ the media headlines because of two closely linked problems reaching crisis point. Firstly, in many areas up and down the country, young people face long waits to access eating disorder treatment, often getting much worse whilst waiting. In parallel, there have been rising numbers of hospital admissions in young people with eating disorders and a lack of available beds, resulting in many young patients being treated hundreds of miles away from their family and friends.

To prevent such problems, here in south London, a team of clinicians and researchers from South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) and King’s College London have set up the FREED (First episode and Rapid Early intervention for Eating Disorders) service, with the aim of getting patients into treatment quickly and reducing the need for hospital admissions. FREED offers assessment and individually tailored treatment for young adults with anorexia and bulimia, seeing them within a matter of weeks rather than months.

Since the service was successfully set up and trialed in 2014/15 we have secured additional funding from the Health Foundation and are now rolling out FREED to four specialist services in the UK. This scaling-up also includes opening FREED to younger patients, i.e. those aged 16 and over. Recently, we have been delighted to find out that the FREED service has been shortlisted for a BMJ Award in the Mental Health Team category.

Feedback from patients, carers and staff show that they have had a very positive experience with the service. FREED has reduced the amount of time the eating disorder is left untreated and FREED patients had a shorter waiting time for assessment and treatment. FREED also helps patients recover more quickly.    Finally, it has also reduced the need for patients to be treated in hospital.

In short FREED is working and as we have always said early intervention saves lives.

In order to spread our message to young people with eating disorders anywhere in the UK, we have launched a new website and animation on early intervention. Spotting the symptoms of an eating disorder early on and getting help early is vital, to stop the illness from becoming ‘hard-wired’ and taking over a person’s life and to aid early recovery. Admitting to yourself and others that something is wrong and dealing with an eating disorder, even during the early stages, can be a very lonely time for a young person. Here at FREED we know that eating disorders are not just about eating and weight and that young people with an eating disorder typically  have  very strong and mixed feelings, including fear and anxiety,  sadness, and other painful feelings. We want to let young people  know that there is help out there and that they are not alone. That is why we have used Eating Disorders Awareness Week to launch our new website and animation on early intervention and FREED. The website is packed full of useful information for young people and carers on how to get help and the signs and symptoms to look out for. The message we are trying to get out there is: The earlier you ask for help, the shorter the road to recovery will be.

To find out more information about FREED, please visit the website


Follow FREED on twitter on @FREEDfromED


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