When Tammy Rowlings' oldest daughter began suffering from an eating disorder, more than a decade ago, there were no support services available.
She didn't know what was happening or who to go to for help.
"[There were] no services available and eating disorders were not understood," she said.
"It was only because of the help I received from an ad in the local free newspaper that as a parent, I was able to begin to understand how unwell my daughter was.
"My daughter's story is not what I want any parent to experience. To simply put it, the re-feeding process is traumatic and the eating disorder fights against it."
The experience drove Tammy to go back to school and get a degree in social work.
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She felt like help was needed and maybe she could provide it.
But her time since getting the degree has been spent saving her youngest daughter's life after she was diagnosed with an eating disorder about two years ago.
Nowadays the understanding of eating disorders and mental health is much better than when Tammy's oldest daughter was suffering. Help was available for her youngest, but that doesn't mean it was easy to access.
Through my experiences I have had so many conversations with others who are trying to help their children. But it always ends in frustration here in Tasmania.Tammy Rowlings
"To get her help required a visit to three separate GPs before we were given a referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and the MYFEEDS program," she said.
"Through her recovery process she has had three extended hospitalisations and has missed approximately two years of school and has only now this year returned to full time school in college.
"She is weight restored, but still struggles. Through my experiences I have had so many conversations with others who are trying to help their children. But it always ends in frustration here in Tasmania."
Throughout her daughter's eating disorder journey Tammy was able to connect with other mothers who were dealing with a similar situation.
But what struck her was the lack of community services available for parents and family members of those with eating disorders in Northern Tasmania.
The Butterfly Foundation, Australia's peak body for eating disorders, operates a service in Hobart which can be joined virtually, but there were no face-to-face services.
So now with her daughter on the road to recovery Tammy decided to partner with Eating Disorders Families Australia to bring a strive support group to Launceston.
You just don't get any support as a parent, it is there for the child that is unwell but for the parent [you] just feel so aloneTammy Rowlings
Strive stands for support, teach, reassure, inform, validate and empower.
"It is great having a support group in Hobart, but they are not going to know what services are available in Launceston," Tammy said.
"When you go through an eating disorder journey you need support, it is such a scary journey.
"You just don't get any support as a parent, it is there for the child that is unwell but for the parent [you] just feel so alone."
According to the Butterfly Foundation's website more than one million Australians are living with an eating disorder.
Adolescent girls are the most affected demographic, but instances of young males and men developing eating disorders are on the rise.
In Mission Australia's 2019 Youth Survey, which surveys young people between the ages of 15 and 19, about 10 per cent of male respondents and about 44 per cent of female respondents in Tasmania reported being either very concerned or extremely concerned about body image.
Tammy said the goal of the support group was to provide a place for parents to not only get support, but also get advice about what services are available in the area.
The plan for the group was originally to meet face-to-face but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is currently meeting online.
The meetings take place on the second Thursday of every month.
"The idea is to have parents or carers who have been through the journey but are completely recovered or on the recovery," Tammy said.
"My daughter is ... what we called weight restored, so she is at a good weight, but there is a lot of mental health issues that go along with it.
"But we are at a stage now where I feel a lot stronger as a carer that I can go out and help others."
Peer-to-peer support, whether it is a carer to a carer or someone who has recovered to someone who is in the process of recovery, is really great help - [for] guidance and education, and you are not feeling like you are in it aloneJo Cook
Jo Cook, the founder of TRED - the service which proceeded the Butterfly Foundation's service in Hobart - said it was great another service was becoming available.
"It is always good to have people in a local community, even if it is state based or region based," she said.
"Often that is a good starting point because they understand the environment that you are in.
"I think it is great for families to be able to connect ... with people in their region who understand, maybe the difficulties sometimes in getting to services or just some general advice and support."
She said it was good carers would be able to access support from people who understand the emotion toll of caring for someone with an eating disorder.
"Peer-to-peer support, whether it is a carer to a carer or someone who has recovered to someone who is in the process of recovery, is really great help - [for] guidance and education, and you are not feeling like you are in it alone," Ms Cook said.
"It is great to have people who understand what you are going through."
To get involved with the group join the strive Tasmania EDFA Eating Disorder Parents and Carer Support Group on Facebook.
The group is private and is only for parents, partners and carers.
- If you are affected by an issues raised in this article you can get support on the Butterfly Foundation's helpline - 1800 334 673.
- For crisis support call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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