On the 20th June 2023, The Lancet published sobering research revealing a 42% rise in eating disorders among teenage girls as a result of lockdowns, and a similar increase in rates of self-harm in this demographic.
Kerrie Jones, Orri CEO & Founder, and psychotherapist of over 20 years, spoke to Sarah-Jane Mee on Sky News about the impact of lockdowns on eating disorders.
The pandemic introduced previously unimagined fears and challenges for individuals living with, or vulnerable to, eating disorders.
Overnight, uncertainty and fear seeped into all areas of our lives and relationships, revealing our vulnerabilities whilst limiting – and for many, removing – key safety nets for intervention.
Eating disorders flourished as lockdown restrictions mimicked the isolative, restrictive and chaotic nature of the illness. As life felt progressively more and more out of our control, many looked outside of themselves in an attempt to cope and feel in control.
Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that often arise during times of emotional distress or transition. As we struggle to face overwhelming feelings of anxiety, depression or loneliness, focusing our attention on food or our weight / shape can serve a purpose to help us cope amidst these feelings.
During protracted periods of down time in lockdown, many of us took to social media in an effort to feel connected. However, without careful use, social media risks bringing about a heightened awareness of our perceived flaws, and with little else to distract us, many ruminated on these and developed restrictive or controlling behaviours in an attempt to resolve perceived problems.
Whilst social platforms give an impression of connectedness, many children and young people suffered from a lack of true connection through face-to-face conversation. In essence, many of the covert social interventions that help us to feel well and supported were suddenly taken away.
Likewise, we cannot forget the milestones that so many children missed during lockdowns. Birthdays, new school years, exams, graduations – all of these form important parts of our development and psychological wellbeing. These experiences connect us to something bigger than ourselves and help us to feel as though we’re moving forward and toward exciting things in adulthood.
Whilst the research highlights the impact on teenage girls, we also know that many boys and men are struggling. This group has seen a staggering 128% rise in hospitalisations for eating disorders in the last 5 years alone.
It’s clear to see that the effects of the pandemic have had further-reaching effects on a diverse group of individuals’ mental health and the sharp rise in eating disorder, particularly among young people, is a concerning trend. It is however important to remember that amid these challenges, there is also the opportunity for growth and recovery.
For those suffering from an eating disorder, it’s essential to understand that you are not alone. Many people around you share similar experiences and understand your struggles. There are dedicated professionals, like the team at Orri led by Kerrie Jones, who are committed to providing you the help and support you need. If you’re worried about your health or want to talk more about eating disorders, we’re here.