Why has the ongoing pandemic caused a surge in eating disorders?
Eating disorders commonly exist alongside other mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The heightened anxiety and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated new and existing mental health conditions.
The isolation and loneliness many young people are experiencing means that they may turn to disordered eating behaviours as a means of controlling their feelings and attempting to cope. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have previously warned of a significant rise of cases, citing a national trend across the UK. Data released by The Royal College of Psychiatrists has also shown a 128% increase in the number of young people waiting for treatment compared with last year.
The increase in time spent online has also meant that young people are now more likely to be exposed to content that encourages poor self-esteem and disordered eating behaviours. In a recent study over (55%) of those living with an eating disorderreported that increased time spent online due to COVID-19had worsened their symptoms.
Those living with a new or existing eating disorders during a national lockdown may also feel reluctant to seek support from health professionals, viewingCOVID-19 patients as priority and their situation not ‘extreme’ enough to warrant putting more pressure on the NHS.The lack of access to in-person counselling sessions has also likely contributed to the relapse of those in recovery for eating disorders. We have also seen a surge in young people using peer support to cope with difficult and distressing feelings during the pandemic.
What is an Eating Disorder?
An eating disorderis a mental health conditionwhere someone has an unhealthy relationship with food. This relationship might also extend to exercise or attitudes to body weight orshape.
When we think about eating disorders, usually we focus on behaviours that are commonly associated with anorexia and bulimia. Although these are the most well-known,around 50% of those living with an eating disorder will have an‘atypical eating disorder’ that does not meet the diagnostic criteria for either anorexia or bulimia.
It is important for parents and safeguarding professionals to be aware of other forms of eating disorders that may not always have the typical signs they would expect. These fall under the categories known as OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders).