Tracey had to start somewhere with her prevention programs, but young people and women are not the only people who experience eating disorders. These conditions affect all ages, genders, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. That’s why she started consulting with government on what specific eating disorder services should be established in SA and helped to establish Statewide Eating Disorder Service (SEDS) in 2014.
‘Before SEDS was established, people were falling through the cracks. There was no central point of referral and not enough services, or variety of services, to meet the needs of people at different parts of the eating disorder journey,’ Tracey explains. In partnership with Flinders University, SEDS uses the latest research to offer treatments that work for South Australians—including people living in remote and rural areas who may not otherwise have access to specialist care.
Tracey is a staunch advocate for doing what works, not just what’s been done before or acting on stereotypes and misconceptions. Research tells us that if a person doesn’t respond to treatment early, then the treatment isn’t likely to work and health care providers need to adapt to a new approach; so this is what doctors and specialists need to do. It’s logical, but it doesn’t happen without that connection between universities and clinicians. Tracey is one of the best advocates for using research to make decisions— whether it’s how a doctor chooses to treat their patient, or how the government funds mental health.
It took years of treatments for Elizabeth, now 17, to recover from anorexia. She returned to full health. It takes most adults 5-6 years to fully recover from anorexia, which about 45% of people achieve (with another 15% reaching weight normalisation and minimal disordered eating). Children and teenagers like Elizabeth have better chances of recovery, so long as the appropriate treatment is provided. Other eating disorders have similar rates—with around 55% of people with bulimia fully recovering within five years.
With prevention, early treatment and treatments that use the latest research, Tracey says that we can do better to protect the vulnerable. Elizabeth and her parents endured years of uncertainty, worry and escalating symptoms before they found the support and treatment they needed. With an organisation like SEDS, that process will be quicker and easier for families in the same scenario. Better yet, with a program like Media Smart or a genetic test, Elizabeth’s eating disorder might have prevented or treated in its earliest stages.
When asked about her research, Tracey will tell you how ‘it can make a difference to people.’ She has worked for years seeing the damage that eating disorders do, but it is observing the courage and life transforming recoveries of people with eating disorders that inspires her to keep going. She is passionate about what she does—sharing that passion with the driven young researchers she mentors. Together, they are building a vision of the future: a world where young people can live free of eating disorders. It’s a lofty goal, but Tracey is pushing towards it and taking us all with her.