Major surge in teen eating disorders during pandemic

March 10th, 2021 11:55 AM

By Emma Connolly

The Eating Disorder Centre Cork reported a 120% increase in helpline phone calls

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TWO to three times as many teens have sought help for eating disorders at Cork’s HSE-run Child and Adolescent Regional Eating Disorder Service (CAREDS) since the pandemic began.

And in many cases their disorders have progressed much faster than usual, and by the time they present for treatment they are so unwell, they need to be hospitalised.

That’s according to Dr Sara McDevitt, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at CAREDS, which sees adolescents, typically aged 13 upwards, from Cork and Kerry.

Dr McDevitt said what they are seeing  since the start of Covid-19 is reflected in hospitals and in GPs across the region, and the entire country, with anxiety and low moods also present in many. The Eating Disorder Centre Cork also reported a 120% increase in helpline phone calls and a 60% increase in initial assessments last year.

Speaking during this week’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, she said that the teens they were treating pre-pandemic, including many from West Cork, were now also taking longer to recover.  ‘A lot of that is because they lack the structure of school, and they’re missing friends. Also, for many, going back to school was often their goal, so they now lack a meaningful personal goal to recover,’ Dr McDevitt said. Combined with longer treatment times, and a surge in young people looking for help, the  Glanmire based service now has a waiting list.

The service has treated people successfully online since the pandemic began. ‘When a person is stable and reasonably engaged, online treatments are successful, but when someone is physically unwell and needs medical monitoring it’s more challenging,’ said Dr McDevitt.

Positively, she said most clinicians feel that tele-health will continue to play a role after the pandemic and would be particularly useful for those travelling distances from West Cork. Her advice to anyone concerned about a young person and their eating behaviour is to step in as families are essential to recovery. ‘Have that conversation, go to your GP and seek help,’ she advised.

She also urged parents and guardians to be mindful of the time a vulnerable person spends on social media.

‘If you’re predisoposed biologically to having an eating disorder, you could spend hours every day online looking at diets and comparing bodies. Teens are very social, which is why they’re drawn online and parents need to be aware of this.’

• A number of events are taking place during awareness week. For more see

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