In June 2014, 14-year-old Francesca was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and referred to South London and Maudsley Hospital (SLaM). Now discharged, she’s feeling positive about her future.
Treatment for anorexia is a long and intense process and Francesca was immediately put on an inpatient feeding programme. The aim is to help the patient return to a healthier weight by encouraging them to stick to a strict eating regime, and slowly reducing time spent at the hospital each week.
As the family is from Essex, this involved a six-hour round trip, for between four and seven days a week, for 10 weeks.
‘There was a lot of travel, but it’s an amazing service – the best in the country,’ Francesca says now. ‘At some hospitals you stay overnight but if you get to go home, you don’t get institutionalised, you get to see friends at the weekend, you have choices and freedom. I felt it was in my control, it was my choice to recover.’
Other elements of the recovery include the Intensive Treatment Programme (ITP) Step Down, therapy groups and art therapy sessions. Multi Family Therapy (MFT) involves entire families attending group sessions to share experiences.
‘As a family, we sing from the same hymn sheet now because we’ve been really well-trained,’ Francesca’s mum Lesley says. ‘What the Maudsley did was to programme us to deal with every eventuality. They’ve given us the tools to be able to talk her down.’
Giving back to SLaM
Although the whole experience was very distressing for the family, they realised that they were lucky in a number of ways.
‘We were in a really tough place,’ recalls Lesley. ‘But we were fortunate enough to be working, able to stick to the meal plan and put the petrol in the car, and although that cost us a lot of money, some people can’t afford that, and desperately need help.’
It was this, along with their experience of the ‘fabulous’ staff at the Maudsley, that inspired them to fundraise for Maudsley Charity. Kevin’s son and daughter-in-law, Robbie and Amy, kick-started it all by running the Brighton Marathon – both achieving fantastic times and raising over £1,000 in the process. Then, together with the help of Kevin’s workplace, The Rendezvous Casino, in Southend, the family put on a Charity Gala Black Tie and Diamonds Dinner in May 2015, raising an incredible £17,900.
Lesley, who is a nurse practitioner at a GP surgery, says that she sees girls like Francesca coming in with eating disorders or depression. She creates ‘positivity pouches’ in her own time and out of her own pocket to give to adults and children feeling vulnerable. ‘I put in a face pack, a bar of chocolate, a colouring book, some pencils, some bubbles. People love them. Patients call me now, if they feel they’re at risk. They’ll come in and I give them a pouch.
‘What the Maudsley has given me is the skills to help those people,’ she says. ‘If I can help someone else, I will. It’s helped me raise awareness of mental health in everything I do, every day.’
Looking to the future
The family went through another difficult time last year when Francesca was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and received treatment in a hospital in the north-west of England. This experience reinforced her opinion of the exceptional treatment she had received at the Maudsley.
‘The way patients with eating disorders were treated there was so different,’ says Francesca. ‘They were admitted as inpatients and didn’t have to go to school. At the Maudsley, there’s a chill-out lounge where you can go after eating to distract you. All the patients I met at the Maudsley have recovered from their eating disorders. It’s such a brilliant hospital that we desperately need more places like that around.’
Francesca still receives art therapy through her local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and is retaking year 11.
‘I would love to study veterinary nursing – but I’ve got to be well to do that, I know that now,’ she says. ‘I’ve got a life to live and I’m going to live it. I’m not going to be completely consumed by my disorders. I want to be Francesca Hicks, who does suffer from disorders but is going to live a long happy life.’
There are lots of ways you can fundraise for SLaM like the Hicks family.