More and more young people are requiring treatment for eating disorders. Why is this happening and what can people do while waiting for help?

A study has revealed that the number of children and young people starting treatment for eating disorders has more than doubled in the last seven years. After analysing NHS data it was found that in 2016-17, 5,240 young people began treatment, rising to 11,800 in 2022-23.

Commenting on the rise, Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza highlights the need for greater protection from harmful online content. Social media may well have a role to play in driving body image issues, but the truth is that eating disorders are complex and there’s rarely one identifiable cause.

The pandemic seems to also be a factor, with social isolation and heightened anxiety creating the perfect breeding ground for eating disorders. Eating disorder charity Beat noted a 300% rise in calls to their helpline during the pandemic and say it was a particularly difficult time for those with eating disorders.

The rise in young people needing treatment shines a light on the government’s “major conditions” strategy. Speaking to The Times, de Souza expresses concern.

“I hope that in merging the mental health and wellbeing plan with other major conditions in this strategy, the focus on children’s mental health is not diluted. I have submitted my response and look forward to seeing the government’s strategy.”

With more people seeking help, wait times for treatment are also increasing. 45% of those waiting to start treatment in the final quarter of 2022-23 for an urgent case waited more than 12 weeks. For comparison, in 2016-17, only 16% waited more than 12 weeks.

Early intervention is an integral part of recovery, so seeing the number of people waiting weeks on end for support is worrying. A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care outlined steps being taken, including capacity being boosted at children’s and young people’s community eating disorder services and additional funding into NHS mental health services.

Director of external affairs at Beat, Tom Quinn notes however that allocating more funding alone isn’t enough, “Ensuring that it is ring-fenced and reaches frontline services must be a priority.”

What can you do when waiting for treatment?

Right now, whether you are a young person or an adult, waiting times for eating disorder treatment can be long. This can feel incredibly frustrating, especially as it takes a huge amount of courage to ask for help.

If you are going through this, as someone with an eating disorder or a carer, know that you’re not alone and that there are ways to find support whilst waiting. Here are some organisations with support options:

Regular appointments with your doctor can help you stay in the loop when it comes to waiting times and gives you space to let them know of any changing symptoms/behaviours. Leaning on your support system, including any loved ones can help you stay strong during this time too.

Self-care can go a long way as well, doing what you can to help you manage day-to-day. This may involve journaling, breathing exercises and engaging in hobbies that bring you joy.

Finally, if you are in a position to explore private therapy to get help quicker, you can search for support at Counselling Directory.