Eating disorder service to set up men-only support group

Eating disorder service to set up men-only support group

One in 10 people contacting Bodywhys for help is a man or the loved one of a man struggling with an eating disorder. Picture: Pexels

One in 10 people contacting Bodywhys for help is a man or the loved one of a man struggling with an eating disorder.

To meet this growing male demand, a men-only support group is to be established next month by Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland.

However, demand for its services has increased across all demographics since the pandemic.

In 2019, Bodywhys supported some 4,100 people. That figure has jumped to 9,000.

Body image concerns are rising in both men and women, with pre-teens now developing body image problems, Jacinta Hastings, Bodywhys CEO, told the Oireachtas mental health committee.

Eating disorders now have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, she said.

The Department of Health estimates that up to 1,800 new cases of eating disorders occur in Ireland each year, she said.

However, international research indicates that just 5% to 15% of people with eating disorders seek help.

The average age of onset of an eating disorder is 15.

Where specialist eating disorder teams are in place, outcomes for patients are good, Ms Hastings said, but there are funding shortfalls and inequity of access to services.

She called for bi-annual funding to allow better service planning. She also called for a review of the funding model and model of care, and for an eating disorder registry to be established to form a national database.

Sinn Féin mental health spokesperson Mark Ward questioned the Government's logic of spending €420,000 per year on Bodywhys, equating to just €46 per client seeking help, while it spent €460,000 on weight loss TV show Operation Transformation.

He also said that many families contact him saying they are struggling to get their children into in-patient eating disorder services. When they are admitted in a critical condition with a dangerously low body mass index, they are then treated but discharged again without adequate support so they again need emergency hospital care.

There are currently just three public adult beds for in-patient eating disorder treatment, all in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin.

Ms Hastings said that the plan is to increase that capacity to 26 public eating disorder beds but she did not have a timeline for that goal.

She said that more plentiful private sector beds are sometimes used by the HSE for public eating disorder patients.

Since the pandemic, Bodywhys has seen a significant increase in demand for services, but the full impact of the Covid crisis on eating disorders is not yet known, Ms Hastings said.

'The perfect storm'

The pandemic and its aftermath were “the perfect storm” for eating disorders, said Kathy Downes, support services manager with Bodywhys, with people trapped at home without access to services.

Harriet Parsons, Bodywhys training and development manager, said that people who were anxious and perhaps were high achieving and had perfectionistic tendencies may have tipped into an eating disorder when they had no standards to measure themselves against while locked down at home. Exercise and controlling food may have become obsessive.

Ms Parsons said that research shows that eating disorder treatment in the community leads to the best outcomes for patients. That is why there has been a focus on community teams trained to deal with eating disorders, she said.

Some progress has been made to tackle the problem, she said. Specialist training is being offered to thousands of medical professionals across the country so that medics are better equipped to deal with the complexities of an eating disorder.

A new programme is also being implemented from the Maudsley Hospital in London so that patients from the age of 18 will be followed and supported by clinicians throughout their eating disorder treatment, whether that is in-patient or in the community, to ensure continuity of care.

She said that people with eating disorders use disordered eating behaviours as a way of coping with their emotions, but with the right support, they can completely recover.

  • Call the Bodywhys National Helpline on 01-2107906 or email
  • If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.

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