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 disorder reported that increased time spent online due to COVID-19 had 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, viewing COVID-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.