Shropshire Star

Lockdown had profound effect on eating disorder sufferers, says expert

Lockdown has had a profound effect on people suffering from eating disorders, an expert in the West Midlands said today.

Beat, an eating disorder support charity, has recorded a spike in the number of people accessing their services during lockdown

The loss of face-to face counselling has provided a big setback to many who are struggling to recover.

And the unpredictability of food shortages has also affected the recovery of those who rely on a routine of buying supplies for meals.

Dr Mark Tattersall, a consultant psychiatrist with the Huntercombe group which has a hospital in Stafford, specialises in treating 12- to 18-year-olds across the region with anorexia nervosa.

He says there have been some positive aspects to lockdown, by ensuring younger sufferers are spending more time with their family. But for many it has been unsettling.

Dr Tettersall said: “There has been a range of effects on patients. Negatively, the face to face work of our community teams was stopped due to lockdown, unless it was a crisis situation.

“Early on in lockdown, food shortages were difficult for some people and caused a lot of anxiety when items they were used to getting were not on the shelves.

“A lot of patients find it difficult to put things into words, so trying to speak to people over the phone and get them to articulate it has been hard at times. Some of the activities our inpatients do have had to be limited, and parents can’t come in to eat with children.

“However, on the plus side, because a lot of parents are now at home they are there to supervise their child at meal times and with foods.

“Also with only one person per household allowed to do food shopping this means that the person with the eating disorder can’t be there to check labels on foods and choose what is being bought.”

Eating disorder charity Beat has recorded an overwhelming surge in the number of people accessing its online support services and helplines since March.

Reflecting on the number of admissions and referrals to specialist treatment services during lockdown, Dr Tettersall says levels are in fact lower than usual at this time of year.

He said: “Referrals dropped at the start and we aimed to discharge people earlier where possible too.

“This time of year we expect to see more referrals, although people have been visiting GPs less.

“The big thing for a lot of people is summer holidays have been cancelled and exam stress has vanished, which normally can cause a lot of young people anxiety, so it is very different for them.”

Dr Tettersall advised parents who may be concerned about their child’s wellbeing to not be afraid to seek help, saying: “If you are a parent and are worried, then trust your instinct. Contact your GP or a charity such as Beat for advice and support. If you are getting a bad feeling then go with it rather than hoping it will go away and letting it go untreated.”

Beat's confidential helplines are open 365 days a year from 12pm to 8pm during the week, and 4pm to 8pm on weekends and bank holidays, more details can be found on its website. Contact its helpline on 0808 801 0677, studentline on 0808 801 0811 and youthline on 0808 801 0711.

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