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  1. ITV Report

'I thought my son was going to die' - Plymouth mum's agony as anorexia tore her family apart

Ollie Roche and his mum Debbie have spoken about how anorexia affected their relationship Photo: ITV News

More people are being hospitalised for eating disorders in the West Country than at any point over the last decade, according to shocking new figures.

NHS data shows around 700 admissions across Devon and Cornwall last year - more than double the figure from ten years ago.

Experts say this could be due to increased awareness, but there is growing concern about a spike in the number of young people needing urgent treatment.

As part of mental health awareness week, which this year focuses on body image, a mother from Plymouth has spoken of her son's desperate battle with anorexia, which left him close to death and threatened to tear their family apart.

700
hospital admissions for eating disorders across Devon and Cornwall alone last year.
Ollie says he didn't think there was anything wrong with him Credit: ITV News

When Ollie was admitted to hospital, seeing his purple hands and knowing that his circulation was very poor, his heart was being eaten. His body was consuming his heart. Those are terrible things to hear, never mind be in the same room and see what was your son now a shell. As a parent, there's one hell of a lot of guilt attached. Why can't I make him eat? Why is he doing this? It's seriously terrifying.

– Debbie Roche
Ollie pictured at a young age Credit: Debbie Roche

Ollie was diagnosed with anorexia when he was 16. But it took him years to understand and accept the condition.

The causes of eating disorders are extremely complex and not yet fully understood. Social media firms are being urged to crack down on graphic images which glamourise weight loss - but for many sufferers, the issues go far deeper.

In Ollie's case it is wrapped up with other illnesses such as OCD, depression, anxiety and body dysmorphia.

I didn't think there was anything wrong with me. I said I'm really tired all the time but I just said I'm tired. Didn't think I was ill because I didn't think I was in a dangerous position, I just literally couldn't understand what everyone was so worried about. It was definitely a mental thing. The physical aspect of it was the side effect of what was going on in my head. Literally it became a massive thing about control, and then control just turned into something much more ugly than that.

– Ollie Roche
Debbie wrote a book about her experience of having a son with anorexia Credit: ITV News
1.25m
people in the UK living with eating disorders
25%
are male, much higher than previously believed
Ollie says he feels he wasted his teenage years Credit: ITV News

Anorexia was still to me a female condition. Obviously we found out through Ollie's terrible experiences that it wasn't. It totally devastated not just me but the family unit as well. We didn't know how to deal with it. First and foremost in my mind was I had to make sure that Ollie didn't die. My son was not going to die. So I learned everything I possibly could. Courses, books, I did everything I could so that I could fight the condition with Ollie.

– Debbie Roche

After studying for a diploma in eating disorders, Debbie wrote a book about what she and Ollie had been through.

She is now the chair of a national charity which helps men and boys who are suffering from eating problems.

Debbie is now the chair of a national charity for boys and men with eating problems Credit: ITV News

I wouldn't say I'm actually 100 per cent now. Every day I've still got this problem with the way I look, and I'm still very cautious about what I eat. But my mindset now Is I don't really want to go through all that again. I look back at it now and I feel like I wasted my teenage years, because anorexia literally was my puberty and that's something I'm never going to have back, and that's what depresses me the most.

– Ollie Roche
Debbie and Ollie are keen to help others suffering with eating disorders Credit: ITV News

More and more men are seeking treatment, which is a good thing. Traditionally there has been a lot of stigma around eating disorders, especially for males. Still the proportions of men seeking help, compared to women, is still low. The number of people contacting our helpline is going up month after month. The message is early intervention. The sooner people seek and receive help, the more likely they are to have a full recovery.

– Tom Quinn, Beat charity