Families affected by eating disorders across Northern Ireland will have better access to information and support thanks to a grant from Big Lottery Fund.

C.A.R.E.D. NI (Caring About Recovery from Eating Disorders) has received a £10,000 grant from Big Lottery Fund’s Awards for All programme for a new website that will help families get support.

CARED NI is a charity that supports families affected by eating disorders in Northern Ireland. Patricia McLarnon, one of the founders of the group, nearly lost her daughter Debbie to a severe eating disorder when she was in her late teens.

Debbie had an eating disorder from about the age of 12 or 13, but she kept it hidden from her family for years so they only became aware of it when she was 16.

“Debbie’s eating disorder devastated our entire family when we found out. Our daughter’s personality completely changed from an outgoing, bubbly girl to a withdrawn, fragile recluse who tried everything to hide her illness from us,” Patricia said.

Debbie Howard suffered from an eating disorder for about 10 years. She made a full recovery through the New Maudsley method and went on to become co-founder and chairperson of CARED NI

Debbie Howard with her mother and father Pat and Paul McLarnon and her brother.

The family tried to access support but services, especially for families, were limited.

“We didn’t have a clue how to help her. We didn’t know or understand anything about it,” said Patricia. “We didn’t know any other family who had dealt with an eating disorder. We felt completely alone.”

When Debbie moved away to London in a university gap year, the illness got worse. However, her parents helped her access specialist care there and she started to recover.

Today, Debbie is fully recovered. She is married, has a child, and has become a qualified psychotherapist specialising in eating disorders. She is a co-founder and the Chairperson of CARED.

The Big Lottery Fund Awards for All grant will pay for a new website for the group, with better search engine optimisation so that parents are able to find the site more easily. It will also have more information and resources on the condition and how parents can help their child.

“We need this website to be able to connect up parents from across Northern Ireland who are right now feeling there is no help out there,” said Patricia. “This is a very complex frightening illness. When you are facing it without knowledge you are desperate. With this website people will be able to find and access the localized information and advice they need 24 hours a day. Once you meet other families dealing with it and start learning how to tackle it, it dispels the fear and you start to feel you can help.”

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses. About 20% of anorexia sufferers die prematurely. For more information visit: http://www.caredni.org/ Goes to different website

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