July 22, 2021 10.15 am This story is over 32 months old

Eating disorder referrals soar during COVID-19 pandemic

New crisis team is helping young people with mental health issues

The number of young people being referred for specialist help with eating disorders has risen by more than 50% in the past two years, with a further sharp increase expected post-Covid.

A report before Lincolnshire County Council’s health scrutiny committee on Wednesday showed an overall 51% increase in referrals to the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) since 2018/19, with a 39% rise in the past year alone.

However, mental health bosses in the county say a new intensive home treatment team, set up following the closure of Lincoln’s Ash Villa in 2020, is making significant improvements to children’s wellbeing.

According to the report from Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, the number of CAMHS crisis referrals went from 1,043 in 2018/19, to 1,112 in 2019/20 and then 1,194 in 2020/21.

Of those, the number referred for eating disorders went from 73 to 90 and then jumped to 148 respectively.

The report outlines how nationally, it is expected there will be an average 30% increase in demand in the future.

A chart showing the rise in eating disorder referrals to Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. | Image: LPFT

A spokesman for LPFT said: “Whilst we have not identified any specific themes or trends in relation to why young people are being referred, it is thought that this increase is due to an increased awareness and knowledge of eating disorders, meaning that concerns for young people’s eating habits can be identified earlier.”

However, councillors were told a new Crisis and Enhanced Treatment Team, set up in 2020, had successfully lowed the number of general mental health admissions into adolescent units to from 46 to 13.

Around 97% of children now avoided admission into specialist units and were able to be supported in their home environment.

Lincolnshire County Council’s health scrutiny committee on July 21. | Photo: Daniel Jaines

UK eating disorder charity Beat told Local Democracy Reporters the impact of the pandemic and lockdown had seen a “massive impact” on people with eating disorders, and that “sadly it is not surprising” to see referrals for children and young people increasing.

Beat’s director of external affairs, Tom Quinn, said: “For those who already had an eating disorder their illness has worsened, more people have developed an eating disorder for the first time, and others who thought they had recovered from their eating disorder have relapsed.

“We have seen a huge increase in demand for our helpline – at its peak, demand was over 300% higher than pre-pandemic levels – with many talking about increased anxiety, isolation and lack of support as factors.

“Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses but recovery is possible. Accessing help as soon as possible leads to the best chances of making a full recovery, and we encourage anybody struggling to get in touch with their GP for support.”

Anyone looking for support and advice can contact LPFT on 01522 421632 or get in touch with BEAT via their support services here.