A combination of the pandemic and social media pressures is leading to an increase in mental health issues, including eating disorders, among young people.
An NHS trust in west London has said referrals to its child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) have increased by 140%.
Lizzie, a former West London NHS Trust patient, developed anorexia as a teenager after battling anxiety and depression when she was just 12.
She said: “I remember being alone a lot at school. I was always very social. And then when I started having these problems, I remember often sitting alone .Eating alone, becoming more and more withdrawn from the things I used to do.”
Lizzie, who is now studying to become a doctor, said her behavior had become increasingly withdrawn and had gone undetected by her family or teachers at school.
By the time Lizzie turned 15, her anorexia had become so severe that she was admitted to a psychiatric unit for 10 weeks of life-saving treatment. It was then that Lizzie first realized how sick she really was.
She said: “Until then I had been functioning. I was in school, I was still a good student and, you know, none of my friends or anybody really knew, so I had worked.
“I walked in with my mum and dad and immediately the first person I saw had a huge head injury from hitting their head. So that was the first time I really saw that, and I was a little surprised.
“And then I remember another patient there who had cuts all the way down his arm, and there were alarms going off and people had to be restrained. And it was just extremely painful. remember my first night in the hospital and I just had my first meal there.”
She continued: “I remember it was sausage and mash, and I hadn’t eaten it in probably four years. And then cake for dessert and I remember eating that and weirdly to feel pretty proud of myself, but I called my parents later that night, I just remember yelling at them, please come get me.
“I was absolutely terrified. There’s no doubt about it. Honestly, that was the night I called my parents…it was the lowest point of my life.”
More than a million Britons have an eating disorder
An estimated 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder, and it claims more lives than any other psychiatric condition.
A new report from the Common’s Committee on Health and Social Care has called for more to be done to regulate the falsification of ‘commercial images’, including altering body proportions or skin tone, so that they are legally required to wear a logo to let viewers know that they have been digitally altered.
The committee also wants more controls for non-surgical cosmetic procedures, such as Botox injections, including a licensing system for providers, minimum training standards and a cooling-off period between consent and provision of the procedure. .
NHS digital data shows that the proportion of children and young people in England with possible eating problems has increased significantly since 2017 – from 6.7% to 13% among 11-16 year olds, and from 44, 6% to 58.2% among 17 to 19 year olds. -year.
In 2020/21, the NHS saw an 83% increase in demand for urgent services for eating disorders and a 41% increase for routine services.
The data also shows that between April and October 2021, there were 4,238 hospitalizations for eating disorders among children aged 17 and under, up 41% from the same period the previous year.
“It’s as busy as I’ve ever seen in my career”
Dr Derek Tracy, medical director of the West London NHS Trust, says he has never seen such high demand for access to mental health treatment.
He said: “It’s as busy as I’ve ever seen in my career. There’s no doubt we’re in a different position to where we were nationally about three years ago. The numbers are up, they’re up in all age groups and in all types of presentations.
“I mean, the obvious thing to think about is the pandemic. I know that’s a natural suspect, but it seems to be behind a lot of things. You can think of anything that comes with the pandemic .
“There’s increased isolation, working from home is great for some people. It’s not for others. And I think our way of life has changed, and it’s an anxious time, people will have loved ones who are sick, who may be suffering from COVID or who have suffered themselves.
“And those things seem to have come together in a perfect storm and are causing mental health anxieties.”
He added: “There are concerns at the moment whether it’s social media, the role they play, the way people see themselves, how they interact with the world. The numbers are up there, in this part of London, they are up across regions, and are up nationally.