It is estimated roughly nine per cent of Canadians are affected by an eating disorder, with anorexia being the third most common chronic health condition among young women.

Soon, Cape Breton residents struggling with eating disorders will have a place to go for support.

Shaleen Jones is a co-ordinator for Self Help Connection, a charitable society that helps people improve their lives and health. Jones is expanding support services to Cape Breton for families dealing with eating disorders.

“It has the highest fatality rate of all mental illness,” says Jones. “It’s a real illness. Treatment is available. People can and do fully recover, but treatment and support is required after that.”

The IWK Health Centre in Halifax and the Cape Breton District Health Authority are providing financial support for the project, which will be the first of its kind in Cape Breton when it kicks off in January.

“There’s always need for more support for people with eating disorders, for families, loved ones and just for education as well,” says clinical physiologist Dr. Emily Orr. “The idea of Self Help Connection coming here to Cape Breton is a great idea because it’s families helping families.”

Health experts say eating disorders are more common in young women, but the numbers are rising among men and middle-aged women.

Orr says eating disorders are incredibly isolating diseases for people who have them, as well as their families. She says, without support, they have a snowball effect.

“Things like drugs and addiction, PTSD, all sorts of other things that also need attention, so when you’re looking at treating eating disorders, you need to look at the whole picture,” says Orr. “That can take two, three, five, seven years.”

Kelly Peckham spent seven years helping her daughter cope with an eating disorder. After having little support, she now organizes a group in Halifax for those dealing with the same issue.

“Nobody understands an eating disorder unless they live with one. It is so hard to understand,” says Peckham. “Even my family and friends all just said she’s spoiled, you need to make her eat. It’s not about what they’re eating. It’s about what’s eating them.”

Jones says Self Help Connection will continue to work with communities throughout Nova Scotia to expand its services in the province.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Kyle Moore