According to the latest numbers released by the NHS more younger folks than before are undergoing care for eating disorders.
Between April and December, about 10,000 children and young people began treatment, representing a quarter rise over the same period previous year and nearly two-thirds increase since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to NHS chiefs, community services are now available in every region of the country, so individuals and families should seek support as soon as possible if they are worried. If young people and their loved ones have concerns and want to seek support, the NHS Associate Clinical Director for Children and Young People’s Mental Health and psychiatrist, Professor Prathiba Chitsabesan, recommends they use reputable online resources.
Professor Chitsabesan goes on to say that some of the warning signals to look for include setting rules about what or how they eat, eating a limited variety of foods, or creating a detrimental self-image about their weight and appearance. Young people’s food issues can start as a coping mechanism or a method of feeling in control, but they can quickly spiral into more restrictive eating and behaviour patterns. The COVID-19 pandemic’s unpredictability, feelings of isolation, changes in habits, and feelings of loss and fear could all be factors.
Due to increasing demand during the pandemic, the NHS is allocating an extra £79 million to children’s mental health services, with funds being used to ensure that at least 2,000 additional children and young people begin eating disorder treatment.
As part of the NHS Long Term Plan’s commitment to enhancing mental health services, an additional £2.3 billion per year in additional funding will be provided for mental health care, especially eating disorder services, through 2023/24.
NHS services stayed open all through the outbreak as tough mental health staff worked to give care to more individuals than ever before, says Claire Murdoch, NHS Mental Health Director.
The NHS tends to see record-high levels of young people with eating disorders, and it is critical that anyone who may require treatment comes forward as soon as possible so that the NHS can provide them with the treatment they require.
Parents can find information about potential symptoms of an eating disorder, such as binge eating, feeling bad after eating, and having a negative self-image, as well as other signs on the NHS website, and should not hesitate to get in touch with the NHS if they believe their child requires assistance. Alice, who was 17 years old before her mother referred her to NHS eating disorder services, had an initial conversation with the NHS the day following the referral.
According to Alice, she was very nervous when her mother made the referral since she didn’t know if she could be treated. Alice explained that those anxieties quickly vanished after chatting with her doctor over the phone barely a day after the recommendation was made. She adds that she was not sure she would have answered her phone and if it wasn’t for the call so soon after, she would have probably pretended it wasn’t occurring and disengaged. Her clinician helped her feel understood during the examination, which was kind and informed.
Following the evaluation, it was concluded that cognitive behavioural treatment was the appropriate course of action for Alice, who reports that she is doing much better now.
Alice says that she couldn’t believe her treatment started merely six days following the assessment. She anticipated having to wait weeks, if not months, and genuinely believed that she would be in a totally different position if it hadn’t been for the prompt assistance so soon after referral. Thankfully, with the help of the clinician, she is doing much better.
The indications and indicators of eating disorders can differ from one person to the next. However, if a youngster has a lot of the following symptoms, they may need more help.
- Obsessiveness with regard to calorie or other ingredient content in meals
- Consuming a limited number or variety of foods
- Rules about dining, demanding that they prepare their own meals, or only using specific utensils and cutlery are examples of more controlling behaviours
- A negative self-perception of their weight and/or appearance
- Avoiding dining with others or maintaining secrecy
- A sense of guilt after eating
- Weighing themselves over and over
- After-meal vomiting or urination
- Excessive or obsessive exercise
- Weight loss or gain, or changes in weight or body shape that are very low or high
- Long-term weight stagnation or failure to gain weight
- Complaining of a lack of concentration, dizziness, fatigue, or a feeling of cold
- Getting agitated during mealtimes
- Irritability, nervousness, or a bad mood
- Withdrawing from social situations
Professor Prathiba Chitsabesan gave parents advice on how to help their kids through the pandemic, like:
- Take the time to chat with the child or young person you care about; it can be difficult for young people to recognise that they have a condition or that they may require assistance. Some teenagers may find it simpler to communicate when doing something together, including playing a board game or doing a project or other activity. Choose a time when you won’t be interrupted but both of you are relaxed. If they find it difficult to talk to you, encourage them to talk to another trustworthy adult, such as a family member, teacher, or doctor.
- Take time to pay attention to them; provide a quiet, safe environment where kids may express themselves without fear of being judged. Avoid saying anything that can come across as accusing, judgmental, or dismissive.
- Try to understand the issues and reassure them that you have acknowledged them and are here to help. Instead of focusing all of the talk on eating or weight, ask how they have been feeling, as this is frequently more constructive. Complimenting someone on something other than their beauty might feel more appreciated, which is less likely to be misunderstood.
- Develop your family to sit down for frequent mealtimes: sitting down for frequent mealtimes as a group can actually inspire social and good eating behaviours, as well as monitor any concerns regarding eating disorders. Maintain a neutral tone in your communication.
- Keep an eye on the adolescent you care about. Check if the young person is losing weight, developing secondary physical health symptoms or accessing websites or social media content that promotes eating disorders. If eating problems persist, deteriorate, or are affecting the young person’s day-to-day living: actively sought specialised medical support and advice and boost vigilance
- Assist the children and young people you care about in participating in good activities that will keep them from isolating themselves: Positive activities, like as safe interaction with family and friends, can help the young person distract themselves from unpleasant and bothersome thoughts and simply open about their feelings.
- Provide structure and regularity (particularly for sleep); frequent changes in routine and limits can cause anxiety and sadness in certain children and young people. Many children and teens may also have sleep problems. Offering structure through the creation of daily and weekly timetables, as well as nighttime routines, can help young people cope with their anxiety by providing predictability and a diversion from bad feelings.
- Assist children and young people with disabilities: The impact of COVID-19 may be particularly difficult to manage for children and young people with disabilities, like those with autism spectrum disorder or learning disabilities. It’s critical to explain the shift and manage any fear or sadness they’re feeling, as this could have an effect on their eating habits, such as restrictive eating behaviours or overeating. If they are already in touch with professional social care services, seek guidance from them, or call the GP. On their website, the National Autistic Society offers valuable guidance on how to deal with this difficult time.
- If you suspect a youngster you care about is experiencing physical symptoms as a result of weight loss, suicide ideation, or self-harming, seek expert advice and help as soon as possible. It’s critical that you don’t ignore these signs and call your doctor or a crisis mental health assistance line immediately to get the aid and support you need.
- Finally, as a parent or caregiver, you must take care of your own mental health in order to successfully assist yourself and those you love. Continue to communicate with family members and friends about how you’re feeling, and if things are getting too difficult, get help from the NHS or other support agencies.