Findings from a recent Youth Wellbeing NI Survey found that one in six children and young people engaged in a pattern of disordered eating and associated behaviours that indicated the need for further assessment.
AMH everyBODY – which provides support to people living with an eating disorder and their family and carers across the Southern Trust area – found that the pandemic exacerbated the problem among young people.
Deborah McCready, Project Worker with AMH everyBODY said: “Anecdotally, we are hearing from parents, schools and pupils that during the pandemic young people have been more exposed to risk factors that could explain these findings.
“Eating Disorders can thrive in isolation and as a result of the pandemic young people had less access to their normal social support systems, yet more access to social media in isolation. Whilst social media isn’t the root cause of eating disorders, it can be a risk factor in developing low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, increase in anxiety and negative thinking patterns through comparison.
“Through our AMH everyBODY BodyTalk workshop, we encourage critical thinking with social media usage and teach how to put protective tools in place to ensure it is used from a place of support and encouragement. The pandemic also resulted in a lot of media campaigns that centred around weight and food, from stockpiling during lockdown, to stigmatising language being used with coming out of lockdown and weight loss, that we heard routinely from clients that it was triggering to be exposed to.”
Deborah said the disruption to safety routines like creative outlets, hobbies, and clubs has also been a breeding ground for anxiety. “As a result of all of these risk factors we as a service have noticed that people contacting for support have been displaying more unwell and with more complex needs than previously experienced. This is where our positive working partnership with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust (SHSCT) Adult Eating Disorder team has been essential to ensure timely and appropriate support.”
AMH everyBODY works closely with the SHSCTrust Adult Eating Disorder team to ensure comprehensive support programme advances a positive recovery journey.
AMH everyBODY has a key focus on prevention and early intervention regarding eating disorder and also works closely with local communities through schools, colleges, youth and sport organisations to achieve this through our BodyTalk workshop that looks at areas of eating disorders awareness, signposting to appropriate support, self-esteem and resilience building.
Figures from the Department of Health in 2020 show that for review appointments to eating disorder services rose by 40%. AMH everyBODY has also seen an increase in demand for support, not just from individuals presenting with an eating disorder, but also parents of children as young as 8 who are engaging with CAMHs, from teachers expressing concerns for pupils demonstrating disordered eating behaviours, and also pupils who have expressed the need for more eating disorder awareness raising workshops to address issues amongst their peers.
Whilst evidence does indicate that the pandemic has had an impact on young people and the prevalence of eating disorders we have also found that more people are self-referring and reaching out for support. Schools are also taking a more proactive and joint up approach that supports from all levels, from pupil to parents to teachers, and that through effective and early awareness raising we can remind everyBODY that it is never too early, or too late to seek support.
For more information visit AMH everyBODY HERE
You can also consult Young Mind’s A-Z guide HERE