On the 10th of April, Nikki Grahame, Big Brother reality star and TV personality died of complications from anorexia after battling a second relapse in the disorder.
Content warning: this article discusses eating disorders
In March of this year, Grahame’s friends and family set up a GoFundMe page to support her attempts to access treatment through the NHS. The GoFundMe page, set up by her friends, Carly Cunningham and Leon Dee is quoted as saying “the [NHS] treatments have failed and we have exhausted every possible avenue”.
After this tragic news, questions are being asked about how this failure happened, and what can be done going forward to prevent any further deaths.
Nikki Grahame’s death was announced on her GoFundMe page on the 10th, with the announcement reading “It is with great sadness, we have to let you know that our dear friend Nikki passed away in the early hours of Friday 9th April” with a further request for privacy for those family and loved ones who have lost Nikki.
- See also: 'I may be overweight but I still have anorexia'
- See also: 'Royal College of Psychiatry warns children are “bearing the brunt” of the pandemic'
- See also: 'Women and girl’s mental health is in crisis one year into the pandemic: Agenda reports'
Nikki Grahame was open and honest about her experiences with her eating disorder: anorexia. Grahame published a total of two books on these experiences, ‘Dying to Be Thin’ (2009), and ‘Fragile’ (2012).
Grahame had suffered with anorexia since a young age and entered her first clinic stay at the age of 16, after which she made a promising recovery. As stated above, Grahame relapsed twice after this, once in 2011 and then the most recently, earlier this year.
Grahame’s story unfortunately does not exist in isolation, in fact, far from it.
In February of this year, Dr Agnes Ayton of The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ (RCPsych) Eating Disorder Faculty warned of a “tsunami” of eating disorder patients attempting to access care and treatments during the pandemic.
Dr Ayton, who is based in Oxford stated at the time that, in usual circumstances about 20% of those admitted for eating disorders were for urgent referrals, this percentage had shot up to 80% during the pandemic.
In early March, the RCPsych also reported that referrals for eating disorder inpatient treatments in the south of England had increased by a fifth, and that waiting times had doubled.
The situation had gotten so dire in England that seven patients had been sent to hospitals in Glasgow for inpatient treatment for their eating disorder, as there were no beds available in England.
These findings from the RCPsych come in succession with recently published NHS data on eating disorders that showed a fourfold increase in the number of young people and children waiting for urgent care for their eating disorders, and a further 129% increase in the number waiting for routine treatment over the past year.
On these shocking figures, Dr Ayton explained “Support networks have been dismantled and the reduced access to community services means many people are suffering in silence, unable to get the help they desperately need.”
To resolve this, Dr Ayton suggested that the government must “urgently address the hidden epidemic of eating disorders sweeping across the country by improving access to treatment and increasing funding for both community and inpatient services.” Dr Ayton also put particular emphasis on the need for early intervention and for “all frontline healthcare professionals” to be trained in identifying the warning signs of eating disorders.
Since this press release and data from the RCPsych was published, the government released their Mental health Recovery Plan. The plan promises to dedicate £79m to Mental Health Support teams for children and young people, including eating disorder services, crisis services and intensive home treatment.
However, this funding is estimated to only come into full effect by 2022 and although there is mention of eating disorder services for children and young people, there is no mention of adult eating disorder services.
This lack of focus on eating disorder services in the Mental Health Recovery Plan is a very similar story to that of the saddening lack of focus on any women’s services in the plan. The pandemic has negatively impacted the mental health of hundreds of thousands nationwide. However, it is clear this impact has been greater felt by some more than others.
An unwillingness to recognise this, and respond to this - be that through new services being introduced or improving already existing ones – will only continue to result in more people, like Nikki Grahame who, whilst in crisis, are being let down by the system.
For anyone struggling with the issues raised in this piece, eating disorder charity Beat’s helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677.
NCFED offers information, resources and counselling for those suffering from eating disorders, as well as their support networks. Visit eating-disorders.org.uk or call 0845 838 2040.