An Australian team is tackling community ignorance about eating disorders with a world-first virtual reality film which puts the viewer inside the mind of the sufferer.
The film, Iridescent, was created pro bono by communications company Porter Novelli with social media and content lead Mandy Griffiths describing it as a "passion project".
Kath Courts is in recovery from an eating disorder. Photo: Janie Barrett
"Virtual reality is known as the empathy machine," she said. "We saw an opportunity to let people walk a mile in the shoes of someone with an eating disorder and really get into their heads."
The film was made in conjunction with the Butterfly Foundation, a not for profit organisation which offers support for people who suffer eating disorders as well as educating professionals, teachers and parents.
Mitch Doyle has now recovered from anorexia. Photo: Steven Siewert
Figures from the Butterfly Foundation show one in 24 people have an eating disorder but stigma associated with mental illness can prevent people from seeking help with only 25 per cent of eating disorder sufferers undergoing treatment.
"A lot of people suffer in silence because they feel so stigmatised," Ms Griffiths said. "That stigma is driven by lack of understanding. If family members and friends have a good understanding of what the person is experiencing and can support them, they have a better chance of recovery. We really want to encourage compassion and support."
Fairfax Media spoke to a number of people affected by eating disorders for their perspective.
Mitch Doyle, a 26-year-old student from Newtown, was first diagnosed with an eating disorder when he was 11.
"I was bullied consistently about my weight at school and that started to affect the way I was eating. My mum took me to the doctor who said, 'Put the weight on or you go to hospital'. I started eating again but the underlying self esteem problems were still there.
"I relapsed when I was 17. It was much harder at that age to deal with it. It was a swift decline. I felt worthless, like a piece of crap, unlovable. All of this constant mental chatter, every single day. It was really hard on my family but they were very supportive with my recovery.
"There was another relapse when I was 21. My first significant relationship had broken down, it was my first time living out of home. I was in a cess pool of self hatred and self loathing.
"Fortunately, I managed to see a private psychologist who was fantastic and helped me find a treatment which worked for me, which addresses the underlying cause of the illness.
"It's been a lengthy journey. I have gone through something horrendous and come out the other side, much more resilient."
Kath Courts, a 28-year-old student from Lane Cove, was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 2010, after 18 months of restrictive eating.
"I had a really bad year in 2008. I was struggling with depression, a very close friend died and it hit me really hard. My dad was getting remarried and I thought I could lose a bit of weight before the wedding. It always starts with a diet but for me it quickly became a coping mechanism. I became quite obsessive and the level of fear I had about food was quite overwhelming.
"I was diagnosed with anorexia in 2010 and was in hospital for five weeks. I have had a number of relapses over the past five years. Last year I was in hospital for nine weeks. I was very, very unwell but it felt like a weakness to eat and get help.
"People seem to understand that it's not about the weight and it's not about the food but I also think that they don't completely believe it. It is hard for people to comprehend.
"An eating disorder really gets in and takes over your life. It's been nine years of my life. I don't see food the same way I used to.
"This year I went back to uni which has been really good. I feel strong in my body as well as my mind. I have more in my life now that I enjoy and that brings me happiness. It has really opened my eyes to what life can be."
Juliette Thomson is a psychologist and national manager of the Butterfly Foundation's helpline services; her colleague Michelle Sperling is a psychotherapist who manages recovery support services.
Juliette: "Mental health is challenging generally but eating disorders are particularly complex because there are two aspects: the psychological as well as the physical.
"The physical consequences of an eating disorder can have quite drastic consequences. Treating someone involves managing the physical side and the really complex psychological side. The majority of people suffering an eating disorder will have a co-morbid diagnosis, for example OCD, depression or anxiety.
"Community attitudes towards eating disorders also can be challenging. Part of our work is to educate people about the seriousness of eating disorders. It's not a diet gone wrong. It's not as simple as telling someone they're underweight, just eat and that will fix you.
Michelle: "Treatment is not a one size fits all approach. What works for one person may not work for another. One thing we do know is that the earlier the intervention occurs, the better the likelihood of recovery."