Many hospital beds are full. Waiting lists for outpatient treatment are swelling. And teens and adults seeking help with eating disorders often find it takes months to get an appointment.
The pandemic has created dangerous conditions for eating disorders, leading to a surge in new cases and relapses that do not abate, even as restrictions are relaxed and COVID-19 cases disappear in many places, according to doctors and other specialists.
“We are absolutely seeing massive increases,” said Jennifer wildes, associate professor of psychiatry and director of an outpatient eating disorders program at the University of Chicago Medicine.
Some patients wait four to five months for treatment such as psychotherapy and sometimes medication. Expectations typically only lasted a few weeks before the pandemic, Wildes said.
Her program treats around 100 patients, a near doubling since before the pandemic, she said.
The Emily program, an eating disorder treatment program affiliated with the University of Minnesota, is experiencing the same thing.
Daily calls from people seeking treatment have doubled from around 60 in 2019 to 130 since the start of the pandemic, a registered dietitian said. Jillian Lampert, head of program strategy.
“We know that anxiety and isolation are generally very important parts of eating disorders,” she said.
Some patients say that “my life seems out of control to me” because of the pandemic and that they are resorting to binge eating as a coping mechanism, Lampert said. Others have taken the “don’t win the pandemic” 15 message to the extreme, restricting their diet to the point of causing anorexia.
The program offers inpatient treatment and outpatient programs in several states, which switched to teletherapy when the pandemic began. This continued, although some in-person treatments resumed.
“We have seen a widespread increase” in patients of all races and ages, even young children, she said. This includes LGBTQ people, who tend to have higher rates of eating disorders than other groups. Women and girls are more frequently affected than men.
Peyton Crest, an 18-year-old girl from Minnetonka, Minnesota, says she developed anorexia before the pandemic but has relapsed twice since it started.
She was already anxious and under pressure when the school went online and social distancing began last year.
“It was my first year, I was about to apply to college,” she says. Suddenly deprived of friends and classmates – her support system – she would spend all day alone in her room and become preoccupied with eating thoughts and anorexic behaviors.
At the instigation of her parents, she received local treatment in June, but relapsed again in September and spent nearly two months in a residential treatment center in Arizona.
Her school recently resumed her classes in person and she was accepted into Rhodes College in Memphis. Crest says she’s doing a lot better.
“My mental health has improved tremendously,” she says.
Wildes said his program has not seen a slowdown.
“People haven’t really gone back to their routines,” she said, predicting that the surge in patients won’t subside until the fall.
The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, which began offering virtual therapist-led support groups for adults during the pandemic, has also seen a surge. Since January, more than 7,000 people from all states and 32 countries have participated in their support groups, the CEO said. Johanna kandel.
“It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before,” she says.
Hospitalizations are also on the rise among adolescent girls with serious complications from eating disorders, mainly anorexia.
Eating disorders affect at least 9% of people worldwide. They will affect nearly 30 million Americans in their lifetime and cause about 10,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to data cited by the National Assn. anorexia nervosa and associated disorders.
Anorexia, one of the most common eating disorders, usually involves restrictive eating habits and extreme thinness. This can cause abnormally low blood pressure and organ damage.
Bulimia, another eating disorder, involves consuming large amounts of food followed by self-induced vomiting. Signs may include frequent use of laxatives and immediate trips to the toilet after meals.
People of all races and ethnicities can be affected, although there is evidence that doctors ask people of color less frequently about eating disorders, according to the association.
An analysis of electronic medical record data from around 80 U.S. hospitals found a 30% increase from March 2020, compared to data from the previous two years. There were 1,718 admissions for girls aged 12 to 18 through February, but no increase for boys.
The analysis was published in April in the journal Epic Health Research Network.
“The COVID pandemic has presented society and especially adolescents with very, very significant psychological challenges,” said Dr. Dave Little, family physician and researcher at Epic who led the analysis. “This was a major event that disrupted the lives of many in many ways and it may be months or years before we see all the real impacts.”
He said the data should put parents and healthcare providers on alert.
“Talk to your kids, talk to your patients. Make sure eating behaviors stay healthy and the sooner you get an indication that there may be a problem … the sooner you react, the better, ”Little said.