June 16, 2024

Vita Nectar

Health is the main investment in life

Hospital admissions for eating disorders have risen more than 50 per cent since first lockdown

3 min read

Earlier this month, Dr Karen Street, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health expert on mental health, warned:  “During lockdown we saw a sudden spike in teenage girls who were not eating. For some it is not to do with body image. It is almost like a hunger strike a refusal to eat because of what is going on around them. It is almost another form of self-harm.

“There are children and young people who are so distressed they feel their only answer is to refuse to eat. Obviously they get very ill very quickly.”

Tom Madders, the director of communications and campaigns at mental health charity YoungMinds, said: “These figures are extremely worrying. The factors behind eating disorders are often complex, but in recent years young people have faced a unique set of pressures for a generation growing up, emerging from the pandemic and faced with academic demands to catch up at school, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and global instability.”

‘Secretive and manipulative’

Lynn Crilly, a counsellor and author, said the dramatic changes forced on to everyday life in lockdown had left some seeking to use food in an attempt to assert some control over their lives.

She said: “The whole world turned upside down. The schools were closed, the online presence was more than ever, children were living their lives on their phones, increasingly socially isolated, and seeing influencers and fitness apps promoting weight loss.”

“Often it is about struggling to feel in control and the one thing they could control was their eating. Eating disorders are secretive and manipulative so you have kids spending more time at home, more time in their bedrooms away from their parents, for some it becomes an obsession.”

Ms Crilly, the author of Hope With Eating Disorders, said many patients were ending up in hospital because their conditions had become ingrained, having struggled to get the help they needed during the pandemic.

Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of Sane, the mental health charity, said: “We are deeply concerned about the impact of people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health problems including eating disorders. We need to support parents, many of whom are waiting for months for assessment and treatment while watching in despair while the mental and physical health of the person they care for deteriorates. Left untreated, eating disorders can last beyond childhood and adolescence and become a serious mental illness. This is why it is vital to intervene before it may be too late.”

An NHS spokesman said: “Over the last year, referrals from young people for eating disorders increased by almost half, and the NHS is focused on ensuring children receive support in the community before issues escalate and an admission to hospital is necessary.

“To deliver this the NHS has increased investment in children and young people’s community eating disorder services every year since 2016, with a further £54 million per year from April 2024, while the health service has introduced hundreds of mental health teams in schools to ensure that children can get easy access to NHS support in the classroom.”

If you are worried about your own or someone else’s health, contact Beat, the eating disorder charity, 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677; beateatingdisorders.org.uk

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