Children, 12, have eating disorder: specialist

CHILDREN as young as 12 are presenting with different types of eating disorders, a specialist has claimed.

Ten years ago, Mary Synott found it unusual to see a 15-year-old boy with an eating disorder.

Nowadays, the psychiatric nurse/psychotherapist, sees children as young as 12 with some type of eating disorder.

As well as an increase in the numbers suffering from these disorders, the eating disorder and obesity management therapist warns that adolescents are presenting at a much younger age with this problem.

Ms Synott said: “The prevalence of eating disorders is rising. It is an increasing problem and one that is often undetected for years. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all the psychiatric illnesses and they can also occur in boys and men.

“Boys and girls want to be like their peers, there is societal pressure to look good and your value is judged by how you look. Young people, particularly young children and adolescents, are greatly influenced by the media.

“Children, in particular, mirror what is around them and they admire celebrities who present a glamorous image that isn’t real.

“Young girls who are becoming more anxious about their body weight are at risk of developing serious problems later in life.

“Eating disorders are usually triggered by a diet initially. Dieting is dangerous as it teaches us to discontinue eating.”

Ms Synott said there is a deficit in the availability of specialist centres and therapists treating eating disorders. Sufferers in the Mid-West often end up in the psychiatric unit at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Limerick, where they are accommodated without receiving specialist treatment.

Public in-patient beds are provided in St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, for patients with voluntary health insurance. In certain cases, the HSE will fund a bed for a patient but this can take time to arrange.

There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.

Ms Synott said early intervention is key and makes treatment possible. She warned that treatment for eating disorders is patchy at best. GPs are not formally trained to understand or treat eating disorders, although their help in managing physical risk is invaluable.

“Services available through the HSE usually are only made available to serious cases of anorexia or bulimia, and, due to demand, there may be long waiting lists or only help in non-specialist mental health units.

“Adequate follow-up post treatment is a vital part of recovery,” she said.

“A form of therapy called CBT, adapted for eating disorders, is recommended for bulimia and compulsive eating, Many counsellors and psychotherapists claim to be able to treat eating problems and may do with success, however, specialist skills are recommended.”


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