The reported surge in hospital admissions from eating disorders in youth during this pandemic is concerning, although not surprising. Harmful effects of the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown on adolescent mental health has been reiterated by experts; specifically anxiety, stress and uncertainty. Youth angst, resulting from the pandemic has resulted in increased substance use, opioid deaths, depression, anxiety and eating disorders (ED).
ED has been connected to society’s penchant for equating beauty and perfection to thinness. Almost one third of diagnoses occur in girls between 13 – 17 years old.
But, is ED a modern era phenomenon? Apparently not! ED has been with us for centuries. Indications of ED have been reported in women as far back as the 14th century, probably earlier. One notable woman was Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), a respected and highly influential woman of the Catholic Church. Her pious life and a commitment to spiritual self denial, which included food, are well documented. She died at the age of thirty-three, “exhausted by her rigorous fasting” (Wikipedia). Charles Dickens also provides a lens into problematic eating habits and perceptions of beauty in some of the young female characters in his novels.
Today, ED is clearly defined and diagnosed, thus allowing strategies for management and treatment to mitigate complications and enhance recovery. Eating disorders present in different ways and are chronic. Management and treatment of types of eating disorders are complex and extensive.
The surge in ED hospitalization is understandable during this pandemic. Increasing incidence in ED during this time could be associated with factors such as food insecurity in needy homes, the deluge of information and images of sculpted bodies on social media and TV. Other factors include online body shaming, purposeful embarrassment, bullying. Body dissatisfaction ensuing from these emotional injuries, coupled with social media influences are reported to trigger emotional eating habits in adolescent girls.
Management of ED is complex with a goal of recovery, physical and mental health. Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, medications, and nutritional counselling are all part of ED treatment.
ED link to emotional health and its management is a long road. Encouraging client journaling as additional avenue for recovery may be worthwhile. A journal allows adolescents to own a safe space within which they can work through complex feelings and thoughts to find meaning and develop identity.
Resource: “My Self-Discovery Journal: An affirming working journal for youth”.
By Sima Health Consultancy.