THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic could prove fatal for people with eating disorders who say they have been “forgotten” by the government and the NHS.
Researchers found that the Covid-19 outbreak is having a negative effect on nine out of ten people with experience of eating disorders.
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Experts from Northumbria University in Newcastle revealed that the pandemic has raised unique challenges for people with eating disorders.
Around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, according to charity Beat.
The charity claimed that there has been a rise in people seeking help from their helplines during the lockdown period.
The study comes after calls from the scientific community to investigate the mental health consequences of the pandemic for vulnerable groups.
It was previously revealed that millions of people across the UK were at risk of developing depression due to the coronavirus pandemic.
How to reset your relationship with your body
Research has proven that the coronavirus lockdown has had a huge impact on people with eating disorders.
Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Reading, Paul Jenkins, has said there are ways to reset your relationship with your body if lockdown has worsened your relationship with food.
He says there are four steps you can take that will help:
- Begin by regaining control: Prof Jenkins said that structure will help manage the process of eating. He said creating a plan for eating can help and said eating every four hours may be beneficial.
- Try eating socially: He said the pandemic has meant many of us have been eating alone, but now that restrictions have been lifted Prof Jenkins advised trying to eat with friends and family. For those who are still shielding he said it might be beneficial to organise a meeting online.
- Find ways to handle stress: Prof Jenkins said coping strategies such as arts and crafts could help. Writing in The Conversation he added: "Pairing them with social activities (such as going for a walk with a friend and ending with a drink and a snack as part of planned eating) can both reduce the harmful effects of disordered eating and promote the benefits of social interaction".
- Manage unreasonable expectations: Prof Jenkins said the pandemic has made many of us focus on our bodies like never before and added: "Messages around weight and expectations of excessive productivity can be particularly stressful for those with eating concerns and result in a vicious cycle where vulnerable people either turn to food or away from it to manage impossible demands". He said it's important for people to nurture a healthy relationship with their bodies.
The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign to raise awareness of mental health and suicide, and to know the warning signs to look out for.
Dr Dawn Branley-Bell and Dr Catherine Talbot surveyed individuals across the UK who have experienced or are experiencing an eating disorder.
The team warned that the consequences of patients not being able to access treatment could be severe, causing conditions to become worse and in some cases, fatal.
They found that nine out of ten, (87 per cent) of participants felt their symptoms had worsened as a result of the pandemic.
They also found that over 30 per cent stated their symptoms were much worse.
The findings of the study, published in the Journal of Eating Disorders revealed that the pandemic has had detrimental impacts on the psychological wellbeing for people with eating disorders.
This included decreased feelings of control, increased feelings of isolation and low feelings of social support.
Experts found that the negative effects may be down to a change in regular routine, access to treatment, engagement in physical activity and a patient’s relationship with food and technology.
One of the main challenges, experts said, was that many patients had faced a reduction in the health care services they were able to access.
Some patients said they had been prematurely discharged from inpatient units, while others said they had remained on a waiting list for long periods of time.
Patients reported feeling as though they were a “burden” to the NHS, and an “inconvenience”.
Charity Beat said it has seen an 81 per cent increase in contact across its helpline channels, which includes a 125 per cent rise in social media contact and a 115 per cent rise in online group attendance.
Tom Quinn, Beat's Director of External Affairs, said: "We have seen first-hand the devastating impact the pandemic has had on those suffering from or vulnerable to eating disorders and their loved ones.
"More and more people are reaching out to our Helpline services, and we are prepared to support anyone in need at this time."
The team said that social media posts were cited as a cause of anxiety, as was media coverage related to weight gain and exercise.
Researchers stated that the government needs to acknowledge that messages around weight and diet can be triggering and upsetting for people with eating disorders.
Dr Branley-Bell and Dr Talbot said mental health issues need to be addressed more broadly in order for those with eating disorders to receive the help they need.
Dr Dawn Branley-Bell said: "Our findings highlight that we must not underestimate the longevity of the impact of the pandemic. Individuals with experience of eating disorders will likely experience a long-term effect on their symptoms and recovery.
“It is important that this is recognised by healthcare services, and beyond, in order to offer the necessary resources to support this vulnerable population now and on an on-going basis."
If you need help with an eating disorder then you can contact your GP or speak to Beat by calling 0808 801 0677.
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