Latest news | 16 Sep 2020

Urgent Need for Eating Disorder Support Backed by Federal Government


Wednesday 16th September 2020

Butterfly Foundation, the national charity for eating disorders and body image concerns, today announced $450k additional funding from the Federal Government to support the significant increase in demand to its national Helpline as a result of COVID-19.

  • Butterfly has been dedicated to ensuring that people experiencing eating disorders during the pandemic receive the support they need.
  • Butterfly’s National Helpline has received many contacts from people experiencing eating disorders as well as carers, who are now facing a unique set of challenges and triggers during this period.

Butterfly today announced an additional $450k from the Federal Government to support the Butterfly National Helpline – Australia’s only national helpline for eating disorders and body image issues, providing professional counselling support and referrals seven days a week, for more than 28,000 people each year.

“We’ve seen a 57% increase in contacts in August compared to January, as people are struggling even more than usual with eating disorders and body image issues,” said Kevin Barrow, CEO Butterfly Foundation. “We are pleased and relieved that the Federal Government has acknowledged this overwhelming demand by providing an additional $450k in funding so that we can continue to support those in need, and pass on our considerable thanks to Minister Hunt and the Department of Health.”

There are an estimated one million people in Australia living with an eating disorder today, and the added stress and limitations imposed by COVID-19 have been particularly triggering for many.

Juliette Thomson, Psychologist and Manager of Butterfly’s National Helpline said that the intense demand placed on the Helpline during this time has been stressful not just for anyone who has not been able to get through for support, but also for her team of psychologists, social workers and other trained health professionals. “Our staff all have training and experience specific to eating disorders and body image issues. They are here because they want to help, and it is very distressing for them when they can’t get to everyone who is trying to reach us.”

“There is often a real ambivalence about help-seeking within this community – people may know on one level that they need help, but really struggle to take that first step. If they can’t get through to someone who can provide support, they may not try again, and the consequences can be dire,” she said. “This funding is much welcomed, allowing us to better support those who need it.”

The Helpline is a free, safe and confidential service providing counselling, support groups, information and referrals to health professionals around Australia screened for an understanding of eating disorders. All Butterfly National Helpline counsellors are qualified mental health professionals with specialist training in eating disorders and body image.

Statistics – Butterfly National Helpline & Webchat Service

  • Demand for Butterfly’s Helpline webchat has increased by 116 per cent in the last year.
  • Contacts to Butterfly Helpline increased by 57 per cent in August compared to January 2020.
  • Contacts to the Butterfly helpline increased 45 per cent from June to August 2020 compared to the same time last year.
  • Over the past year, there has been a 45 per cent increase in contacts to the Helpline and a 107 per cent increase over the last two years.
  • Total demand for Butterfly Helpline phone support has increased by 48 per cent in the last year.

People living with an eating disorder during this time have indicated a significant increase in eating disorder behaviours and thoughts due to the high levels of stress and uncertainty associated with COVID-19.

Stressors may include (but are not limited to):

  • Disruption to food shopping, food availability, and access to familiar brands.
  • Exercise routines changing due to closure of gyms can lead to fear around body changes, as well as increased focus on our bodies and what they look like.
  • Increased time online, and in video conferencing, providing more opportunities for comparisons and negative self-talk.
  • The inability to receive face-to-face support from comfortable networks such as friends, family, psychologists, dietitians and others can make those experiencing an eating disorder feel even more isolated and alone.
  • Home isolation’s increased exposure to food which may result in bingeing or not eating according to routine.
  • Comparison to others while being stuck at home, with increased pressure on us to be more productive and accomplish different things.

Carers of those with an eating disorder have also reported increased stress and concern due to COVID-19, primarily around:

  • Drastic changes to their support routine
  • Difficulties with physical distancing
  • The health and healthcare of the loved one they’re caring for
  • The confronting nature of loved ones’ behaviours when together all day, every day, that might otherwise have been hidden or not noticed
  • The financial instability and impact on accessing treatment


Media Contact

Alex Cowen – Communications Manager

Ph: 04997 008 716


Editor and producers note: Please include the following support line details in all media coverage of this story and refer to the Mindframe Media guidelines for safe reporting on eating disorders. Please include the following helpline message.

Help and Support

Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact:

  • Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or
  • Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23
  • For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14