By Stephen Petrick
If you or a loved one have struggled with an eating disorder while living in a rural community, U-Links would like to hear from you.
The research organization connected to Trent University is looking for people who can share their experiences of accessing treatment or mental health care services to treat their illness.
Interested participants can contact the principal investigator for the project, student Sara Moret. She can be reached at 705-957-7602 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The co-investigator and thesis supervisor is Dr. Naomi Nichols and he can be reached at 705-878-7297 or email@example.com.
Participating in the project is voluntary and those who share their stories will be kept anonymous.
The project hopes to address a concern in health care circles; that it’s not easy for people in rural communities to access services for eating disorders such as anorexia or binge eating. There’s also a belief that the pandemic has amplified this problem.
“Rural communities do not have a full spectrum of services that address a range of youth mental health issues, especially eating disorders,” U-Links said in a media release to announce the project. “Local families and caregivers often struggle to support the well-being of their children due to inadequate mental health services and treatment options. The struggle is harder when it comes to eating disorders.”
The release also states that “since the start of the pandemic, there has been a surge in eating disorder cases, according to Dr. Debra Katzman (from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto). This surge is also being experienced in the U.S. and Britain. To make things more challenging, the pandemic has made it even more difficult to access services.”
The researchers are concerned that, with so many disruptions to health care and school services over the past two years, that many people are not being seen and treated in the early stages of their illness.
Also, the prolonged period of lockdown can lead to relapses or an increase in eating disorder symptoms.
“The Trent University/U-Links research project aims to find out the ways that people in Haliburton County and rural Ontario are currently accessing information and treatment for eating disorders, as well as consulting with families to learn what parents and youth say would improve (or would have improved) their experience with mental health services for eating disorders,” the release said.
Participants need to be 18 or older. They will be asked what they did to support themselves or their loved one and what factors may have made it more difficult for them to access services. They’ll also be asked how the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted the situation. The researchers hope to hold focus groups and interviews, via Zoom.
In an interview, U-Links administrator and logistics coordinator Daniele Pagliaro spoke about how important the project is.
U-Links, known fully as U-Links Centre for Community Based Research, is a unique organization as it matches Trent University students with research projects, with the hopes of gaining new insights on how to improve quality of life in rural areas.
There are high hopes for this project, Pagliaro said, as she praised Moret as a very dedicated undergrad honours thesis student and said Nichols is “a bit of a superstar” in the research world.
Much of the work related to gathering data has been done, she said, but now the team needs to hear from people directly. She said she hopes the project will ultimately answer questions such as, how can eating disorders among people in rural communities be identified sooner and how they can be matched with specialized practitioners more quickly? It’s a daunting challenge given that many of them work in large cities.
She said the findings of the study will hopefully be available by March 26, when U-Links hosts its annual celebration of research. The event, once an in-person event, but now a virtual event, unveils student research projects that have taken place over the year.