Molly Saunders had not eaten in weeks and her body was in shut-down mode.
Her desperate mum took her to the emergency department but was told there was nothing they could do.
Her daughter had an eating disorder and they did not have any specialist beds.
Ms Saunders had been battling anorexia for the better part of the previous three years and had relapsed while on holiday.
"Dad said 'I'll bring her back everyday until you take her'," she said.
Canberra Hospital eventually found her a bed in the mental health ward, where she stayed for about three weeks.
It was clear Ms Saunders needed intensive treatment to save her life and with no options in Canberra she and her family decided the best option was Sydney.
She spent the next six months in hospital interstate, away from family and friends, learning how to eat again.
Now recovered, she wants to shine a light on the gaps in treatment desperate patients in Canberra are facing.
A misunderstood disorder
Ms Saunders was 18 when she first became unwell. It was 2011 and she was by herself in a foreign country, looking for some sort of control.
"For me it wasn't a body image thing at all," she said. "It does get stigmatised as a vain disease ... but it's so far removed from that. I had incredibly low self esteem and it came down to - this is something I can control and succeed at.
"A lot of it was punishment, you couldn't eat because you didn't deserve to eat."
Her worried mother took her to the eating disorder program run by ACT Health, but she needed to be stabilised in hospital first.
She was admitted to hospital a further two times between day patient treatment stints - in 2012 and 2013 - before she eventually went to Sydney for in-patient treatment in 2014, which was not available in Canberra.
Canberra University researcher and clinical psychologist Vivienne Lewis said eating disorders were often misunderstood not only by the broader community but medical professionals.
"What you hear is a lot of professionals, unless they specialise in the area, they don't feel they are suitably qualified to help people," she said. "So that means as a consumer you're going to people who don't know much about what you're facing. It can take a long time to get to someone who knows what they are doing."
Dr Lewis said better training of GPs and others was essential.
"If you're doing medicine, psychology or training as a social worker, learning about eating disorders is generally a very, very brief part of training, if at all," she said.
"Most people would not know much unless they have a special interest."
Butterfly Foundation chief executive Christine Morgan said decades of misunderstanding had led to significant under-investment in the illness.
"We've made progress but it was coming off a very low starting point," she said.
"We have had decades of no recognition of eating disorders being a serious illness.
"That has translated into significant underinvestment for both primary health and state based care."
"There has not been training for health professionals about eating disorders.
"That translates into a health system that does not have the capacity to recognise, diagnose and treat eating disorders effectively."
She said eating disorders were increasingly not limited to certain demographics, with men and women affected across diverse ages and socioeconomic groups.
Few options for intensive treatment
Ms Saunders said when she was in hospital in Sydney, there were a number of other patients also from Canberra.
"While being in the hospital was absolutely what I needed, being so far from home I felt incredibly removed from my social group and I felt like an incredible burden on my family," she said.
Dr Lewis said Canberra acute hospitals had no specialist beds available for adults, with any patients who were not adolescents forced to travel interstate for in-patient treatment.
"It's an expensive process," she said. "It can be very isolating. The research tells us that part of mental health healing is that you need your friends and family around you.
"If we did have a facility which meant people didn't have to travel it would be fantastic."
Ms Morgan said while patients could be medically stabilised in a non-specialist bed, if re-feeding is needed it requires specialist psychiatric support.
"Optimally you would have eating disorder specific inpatient beds," she said.
A spokeswoman for ACT Health said there were no plans to establish in-patient treatment or direct more funding to eating disorder programs.
But there were a range of options in Canberra to provide support, including an eating disorder program and broader mental health services.
"GPs, clients and families can also access eating disorder services through the private sector. There are a number of private practitioners with eating disorder experience who can be accessed through a mental health plan," she said.
"In rare circumstances, where an admission to a specialist eating disorder inpatient facility is clinically indicated then, in consultation with the client and their families, ACT Health would liaise closely with interstate services to support treatment continuity.
"The ACT does have well established pathways to ensure that, in instances where further support is required, clients are referred onwards to relevant services in NSW and elsewhere ...
"Between January 2016 and July 2017, three young people were transferred to Sydney for care."
ACT Health said there was a four- to 10-week wait to be admitted to the eating disorder program depending on severity and capacity to access other services. Twenty nine people are in the program.
Hope for the future
Ms Saunders' six-month hospital stay was a catalyst for change.
She has been mostly stable since her discharge in May 2015 and confident her recovery is on track.
"When I came back with my weight restored and realised my friends and family still accepted me it was quite a huge moment," she said.
"I thought, maybe I do have something going for me."
She said only after her intensive treatment was she able to make full use of the day programs available in Canberra.
"I was able to focus on the more psychological aspects with my weight and eating patterns restored," she said.
Ms Saunders finished out-patient treatment last year and hopes sharing her story will help remove the stigma from eating disorders and spread awareness of the need for better intensive treatments.
"I'm pretty open about my mental health and the more I talk about it the more other people talk to me about theirs," she said.
"It makes me realise how many people are living with eating disorders that we don't realise and it's just flying under the radar."
For help with eating disorders contact the Butterfly Foundation 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE), firstname.lastname@example.org
For crisis support call Lifeline 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au