'Unprecedented increase' in eating disorders, Scottish Government report confirms

Eating disorder services have recorded “an unprecedented increase” in child patients during lockdown and cases are “increasing in severity”, a new Scottish Government report has said.

The study called for emergency funding to tackle the increased number of young people with eating disorders, pointing to an 86 per cent rise in referrals since 2019.

Some health board areas have reported a hike of 280 per cent. Meanwhile, the report warned of a “postcode lottery” with a variability in support services across the country.

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Eating disorders have risen over the pandemic.

The Scottish Eating Disorder Services Review stated that eating disorders “thrive on isolation” and have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.

The report said the government needs to create a public health strategy for Scotland “that makes eating disorders prevention everyone’s business”.

The document says: “The Scottish Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) eating disorder leads have reported an unprecedented increase in the number and severity of children and young people presenting with eating disorders. This increase in number and severity has also resulted in an increase in adolescent psychiatric admissions.”

It added: “Eating disorders thrive on isolation. Services across the country have seen increased numbers of referrals of people with eating disorders since the start of the pandemic, following a brief downturn in presentations during the initial lockdown. We are seeing people present later and significantly more physically unwell.”

The report said two of the regional adolescent in-patient units said there had been a 220 per cent increase in paediatric admissions.

The document added that UK eating disorder charity Beat saw an increase in calls from Scotland between April and October last year of 162 per cent.

Last year, mental health minister Clare Haughey announced that eating disorder services would be subject to a national review, designed to assess and improve support for people living with an eating disorder.

In addition to extra funding, the report said a National Eating Disorder Network should be established and funded by the Scottish Government, while a “lived experience panel” should be set up and run alongside an Implementation Group.

Jo Bisset, organiser for UsForThem Scotland, said: “This report makes for harrowing reading and shows once again just how badly young people are suffering through lockdown. They are isolated, missing out on vital social experiences and being hung out to try by decision-makers.

“Schools staying open as normal throughout lockdown may not have solved everything, but it would have at least allowed young people to retain a largely normal life. Instead they’ve been locked up at home and left to suffer.”

She added: “This report from the Scottish Government’s own experts makes clear that eating disorders have become a massively bigger problem through the period of lockdown. They need to step in now to stop this unbelievable harm being caused to an entire generation.”

The study said while there is a potential to use telehealth to provide equitable access to specialist care regardless of location, this needs to be balanced against the need in eating disorders to undertake physical monitoring and maintain the medical safety of patients.

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