Huge jump in numbers seeking help for eating disorders

Huge jump in numbers seeking help for eating disorders

The wait time to access treatment is up to four weeks for 55% of referrals and up to eight weeks for 72%. Picture: iStock

The country's national eating disorder support service has reported a huge increase in the number of people attending its support services.

According to BodyWhys, there has been a 55% jump in those attending support services while the number of email contacts increased by 71% in just twelve months.

Family support services have seen an increase of 125% in the same period.

BodyWhys says the post-pandemic surge experienced in Ireland is in keeping with global trends but services here remain underfunded and under pressure.

The HSE National Clinical Programme for Eating Disorders (NCPED), which was established in 2018, saw funding diverted for two years due to the pandemic.

"There was investment last year into the programme and we have seen that develop in the past year so we need to continue to see these specialist services supported and be there for people affected by eating disorders to be able to access treatment," said Ellen Jennings, Communications Officer with BodyWhys.

In recent months there has been widespread criticism of the fact that there are just three public adult beds in Ireland dedicated to those with an eating disorder.

While increased capacity is one of the aims of the NCPED, there are no definitive numbers or dates available at this time.

Last year saw 18% of under 18s referred for care for an eating disorder admitted to an acute hospital while one-in-12 of all referrals were referred from a hospital.

BodyWhys says that early intervention is key in preventing the person from reaching the stage where they require hospitalisation, highlighting the need for specialist, multi-disciplinary teams.

"With these specialist teams, people would be able to access treatment and recover within the community setting that is their usual lifestyle - in terms of their job, their family etc.

"Having to go into a hospital setting isn't ideal for recovery, people need to develop coping skills within their normal day-to-day life that will support them."

The ongoing pandemic and rolling lockdowns over the past two years triggered many people.

Ms Jennings said that when people's lives moved entirely online during lockdowns, this had a detrimental effect on many people's mental health.

"There is the kind of 'body ideals' and comparisons that people can make in the online environment. It is how people use social media. When everything was so focused online, it is difficult to get away from content that might not be so helpful for people."

The impact of the pandemic and lockdowns have contributed to the current surge and resulted in long waiting lists.

There was a 120% increase in referrals in 2021, with twice as many assessments carried out compared to the previous year, and 71% more people were receiving treatment for an eating disorder.

The wait time to access treatment is up to four weeks for 55% of referrals and up to eight weeks for 72%.

The wait time between diagnosis and referral until accessing treatment can be extremely stressful for the individual and their loved ones.

BodyWhys provides active waiting resources for people who find themselves in that waiting period. It is also important to note that support services are available to all ages, genders and a person does not need to have a formal diagnosis.

Anorexia Nervosa was the most common eating disorder diagnosis last year accounting for almost three in four diagnoses.

:: Contact BodyWhys at 01 210 7906

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