Penticton family shares tough journey with disorder
At 15 years old Rylee McKinlay was a star-athlete and A-student who slowly started to fade away.
“I was unhappy with my changing body,” said McKinlay, who now at 20 is sharing her tough journey with a severe eating disorder.
McKinlay, who was living in Kimberley at the time and now is studying Human Kinetics at Okanagan College, said it started with restricting food and increasing her exercise. Slowly the weight began to fall off her five-foot-10 athletic frame.
“There are a lot of reasons why people can start developing an eating disorder — anxiety, depression, perfectionism, genetics. I had it all,” she admits.
Now her family is coming forward with their story in a series of informational videos to help others and health providers across the province improve eating disorder awareness and outcomes.
“If my experience can help even one person, it is worth it,” said McKinlay. “Healing starts with being honest and sharing our stories to help raise awareness about this powerful disorder.”
McKinlay said she became so obsessed with food restriction and exercise that it occupied almost every waking minute of her day.
“At first it felt powerful, then it felt out of control. I couldn’t stop. I was caught in the eating disorder’s destructive spiral.”
Eating disorders affect about 1.5 per cent of young women aged 14 to 24 in B.C. and in recent years more young men are being affected, too. Eating disorders are the deadliest of all the mental health conditions, with up to 15 per cent eventually dying directly from their disorder.
When McKinlay was 16, she had lost so much weight and her heart rate was so low that she was at risk of dying of heart failure. She was hospitalized for nine-weeks at the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. There, with the help of the expert staff, she began the slow, challenging process of regaining her weight, her health and her mental wellness. When she was discharged from B.C. Children’s, the family decided to move to Penticton to be closer to health services in Kelowna.
“The last five years have been the most challenging that our family has ever endured, but along with the challenges we have found many gifts. We believe that one of these gifts is the understanding that we can share with others in order to help in their journeys,” said Terri McKinlay, Rylee’s mom.
Her daughter has shared her story at local high schools and now is a public speaker on mental health issues, with her own website, ryleemckinlay.com.
Last March, the mother and daughter were the keynote speakers, sharing their experience, at a special day-long eating disorders workshop that was held in their former town of Kimberley. The workshop also featured six experts from the provincial program — the same team that helped treat Rylee — who shared the most-up-to-date medical and therapeutic information for assessing and treating eating disorders with more than 90 attendees.
All seven of the presentations were videotaped. Now the seven videos are being released this week during National Eating Disorders Week (Feb. 1-7) to help health care providers and families across the province get expert information on the diagnosis and management of eating disorders.
“We are thrilled to be able to make these videos available. It is important to us to share the knowledge and expertise of our specialized staff with families and health care providers across all of B.C., particularly in communities that may not have easy access to this information,” said Sarah Bell, provincial executive director, Mental Health and Concurrent Disorders Services at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
The workshop and the resulting videos are a project spurred by the East Kootenay Local Action Team, under the umbrella of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use (CYMHSU) Collaborative.
The CYMHSU Collaborative is a province-wide initiative that aims to improve the awareness, co-ordination, and timely access of child and youth mental health services. The collaborative brings together a wide array of people into Local Action Teams to find solutions to specific mental health issues.
There are now 65 local action teams all across B.C., including one in the South Okanagan Similkameen, which the McKinlays are now both on as family representatives.
The South Okanagan team consists of more than 80 people including youth, families, clinicians, schools and community mental health and substance use professionals. Together the team is working on recruiting a child and youth psychiatrist for Penticton, supporting youth in crisis, and raising awareness and reducing stigma around mental health and substance use. For more information call the Division of Family Practice 778-476-5896.
The videos can be found at the Shared Care website, www.sharedcarebc.ca/initiatives/CYMHSU-Resources.