Eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
The toll is particularly strong among teenagers.
Mary Dobson knows that reality all too well.
The Fairfield native was diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia when she was 11. “That’s not young at all,” she notes.
It took 7 years — and countless failed treatment attempts — before she found a therapist who could reach her. Mary pulled herself out of the abyss — and, perhaps, from being a statistic herself — by adopting a mindset of volunteering, and reaching out to others.
“I realized I couldn’t help them unless I was healthy,” she explains.
She earned undergraduate, grad (marital and family therapy) and post-grad degrees at Fairfield University. She launched East Coast operations for a California-based behavioral health company, took time out to raise children, then started Lift Wellness, a small practice in Westport .
It soon grew to 20 therapists, social workers and nutritionists.
Along the way, she realized that nearly all Connecticut treatment centers, and outpatient and partial hospitalization programs, are run by large, out-of-state conglomerates.
Many are attached to residential programs they also own. “It’s all profit-driven,” she says. “Insurance pays much more for residential programs than outpatient therapy.”
She saw a need for a practice unaffiliated with a residential center — and offering “high-quality services” so that leaving family and school to spend time in a residential program was unnecessary.
At the same time, she and Lift could coach families on how to be effective partners with their teen. That’s lacking in most residential programs.
It took a year tfor Lift Teen & Parent Wellness Centers to get licensed by the state. She earned certification in September.
Since then, Dobson has been building out her space at 8 Myrtle Avenue.
Lift Wellness on Myrtle Avenue, at the corner of Post Road East.
There will be rooms for intensive inpatient individual therapy with psychiatrists and dieticians, and a lounge for group sessions.
Dobson is particularly proud of a “beautiful” kitchen. Teens can prepare meals there, and eat together. It will be fully kosher accommodating.
(Interestingly, in the 1700s the 8 Myrtle Avenue office was a school for boys called Richard’s House. A massive fireplace in the main teen group room was where all the meals were cooked.
After decades of use by attorneys, the building is being returned to its roots to serve young people.
Dobson knows — from personal and professional experience — that there is a dire need for her services.
Though eating disorders are brain-based diseases that exist everywhere, growing up i a high-pressure community that places a strong emphasis on appearance can activate the biological underpinnings.
“We see 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds with anxiety levels that are much different from peers in other parts of the country,” Dobson says.
“Knowing risk factors, knowing the signs of eating disorders, and keeping an eye on anxious kids is important. It’s much easier to do preventive work than to treat it after it’s diagnosed.”
Lift Wellness’ new eating disorder program — which is partnering with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center — will work with insurance plans and HUSKY Health.
An adult version of the program, Lift Lifelines, has also been licensed. It will open this summer, for people ages 18 and over who need psychiatric, intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization services.
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