Young lady hiding behind her hair
Mental health

Eating disorder waiting lists are completely overwhelmed

The viral pandemic has caused a secondary pandemic. A mental health pandemic is worryingly out of control and record numbers are needing support.

Young people in particular are at risk of eating disorders and psychiatrists believe they’ve been struggling with the following this year:

  • Fear about the virus
  • Worries about family finances
  • Isolation from friends during school closures
  • Exam cancellations leading to uncertainty
  • Loss of extra-curricular activities
  • Quarantining
  • Increased use of social media
Child hiding under cushions on the sofa

When young people are referred to services for help, lack of face-to-face consultations are leading to patients being severely unwell by the time they’re seen.

England, Scotland and Wales have seen an increase in referrals. There were 16,547 admission in 2017/18, compared to 2019/20 there were 21,794 admissions. London hospitals have seen a tripling in referrals since March 2020.

I’ve worked in eating disorders for 40 years and I’ve never known us to be so busy…

Dr Simon Chapman, King’s College Hospital and South London and the Maudsley

An eating disorder is often a coping mechanism when the world around us is out of control. If you notice your child or anyone around you starting to behave differently with food or exercise, it could be a sign of an underlying eating disorder. It’s important people get help earlier as full recovery is more likely the earlier treatment is started.

For years, mental health has been fighting for equality of funding with physical health but in reality this just doesn’t make sense. How do you compare the following funding?

Physical HealthMental Health
An 8 day course of antibiotics for a urinary tract infection4 psycho-educational sessions in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies for mild depression or anxiety
Diagnostic investigations e.g. gastroscopy followed by 4-8 week course of proton pump inhibitors e.g. omeprazole, to treat gastric reflux6-12 session of individual Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for common mental health conditions +/- medications such as anxiolytics or SSRIs
Surgery for fractured spine followed by physiotherapy, occupational therapy and house adaptationsOngoing specialist support from psychiatrist, community nurse, psychologist and recovery worker to adjust medication, social support and therapeutic input
Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy for patient with malignant melanomaGroup and individual therapy in a therapeutic community for patient with personality disorder
Life long treatments and surgeries required for a patient with osteogenesis imperfecta Multiple inpatient stays including sectioning under the Mental Health Act and lifelong medications for a patient with schizophrenia
Table showing mental and physical health are beyond compare
Vintage scales weighing apples

The latest statistic show that each cancer patient has £1,571 spent on them in research while each mental health patient has £9.75. I cannot begin to comment on how that makes me feel. Perhaps, next time you’re thinking about which charity you’re going to support, will it be a cancer research charity who can afford to spend money on a lot of marketing in order to attract your attention, or could you consider a mental health charity such as MQ Mental Health, a charity dedicated to mental health research?

Research into mental illnesses will show us:

  • How to prevent mental illnesses
  • How to treat mental illnesses – what treatments work and how
  • How to reduce the impact when someone is chronically unwell
  • How to reduce suicide rates
  • Understanding co-morbidities of mental illnesses

We all have a responsibility to look after those around us. We need to look out for signs of them needing support, enable them to talk if they want to and/or advise them to seek help. There’s all sorts of support out there:

  • Mind (UK) offer information about all sorts of mental health related topics including legal matters and help and support including Side by side, their online community.
  • Beat the UK’s leading eating disorder’s charity offer information about eating disorders and have helplines dedicated to supporting sufferers and carers on the phone, via web-chat or by email.
  • Samaritans (UK) available 24/7 on the phone or via email.Female speaking anonymously on mobile phone
  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline (USA) available in various forms: English, Spanish and relay. Specialist veterans and disaster distress lines available.
  • Get Self Help is a great resource for helping yourself. There are all sorts of ideas for helping yourself, for example mindful breathing and sleep self help.

All mental health charities are under tremendous strain at the moment, please support them if you can.

None of these replace professional support, please speak to your primary care physician (GP) if you or someone you care about is unwell, it’s really important to seek help early.

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