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Crisis in mental health: Children in need of 'help' as eating disorders spiral

mental health crisis eating disorder children rise

More than 300 people a week are being admitted to hospital with eating disorders (Image: Peter Dazeley/ Getty Images)

More boys than ever are now receiving hospital treatment for eating disorders. Experts say increased stress at school and the pressure from image-obsessed social media platforms only partly explain the increases in admissions. Tom Madders, Campaigns Director of mental health charity Young Minds, said: “This is a reminder of the importance of early intervention.”

Figures from NHS Digital show 16,023 people were admitted between 2017-2018.

That is almost double the number of 8,835 admissions five years ago in 2012-2013.

Children aged 10 to 15 are the worst affected, according to separate NHS Digital figures. In 2010/11 some 775 (15 a week) were admitted to hospital.

By 2017-18, that had risen two-and-a-half times to 1,993 (38 a week).

The number of boys being treated in hospital for eating disorders also reached a record high.

Admissions for boys aged 10 to 18 around the UK nearly doubled from 94 across 2010/11 to 173 in 2016/17.

Patchy coverage of services has led to people even moving home to get effective care, research shows.

Rebecca Field, spokeswoman for the eating disorder charity Beat, said: “Eating disorders are very complex mental illnesses.

mental health crisis eating disorder children rise

Children aged 10 to 15 are the worst affected, according to separate NHS Digital figures (Image: Getty Images)

“While the rise in children and young people being treated for eating disorders doesn’t necessarily mean the problem is getting worse, it is clear that there is a vital need for local services with the funding and resources to provide specialist care, fast, for everyone who needs it.”

Figures show growing numbers of very young children hospitalised.

Some 68 aged nine and under were admitted between 2010 and 2011. That rose to 96 in 2016-2017.

Separate NHS data shows that one in eight aged between five and 19 were diagnosed with a mental disorder in 2017.

mental health crisis eating disorder children rise

ILLNESS: Louie Dillon at 12 (Image: JOHN McLELLAN)

Dr Lee Hudson, one of Britain’s leading experts in childhood eating disorders, said: “We know children as young as six are presenting with eating disorders. I am concerned there are more hospital admissions for these young age groups suggesting they are so severe they cannot be managed in the community.

“To say this is social media and images of catwalk models is too simple. However, in general, we know many children and young people are not getting timely access to services for many mental health conditions.

Can you imagine if we couldn’t get access to cancer services in the same way?”

An estimated 1.25 million have an eating disorder, according to Beat.

mental health crisis eating disorder children rise

Louie Dillon, now at 25 (Image: JOHN McLELLAN)

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness while eating disorders can lead to organ damage.

Louie Dillon, 25, one of six siblings from Colchester, was first diagnosed with an eating disorder at 12.

He said: “I was mad on exercise. My body was screaming for food but I didn’t acknowledge the signs. My body image was just so important and I wanted to look like athletes.”

At 5ft 4in, his weight plummeted to just six stone.

“I genuinely didn’t know I was ill.”

He was referred to a Cambridge-based NHS eating disorder residential centre where he spent seven months recovering.

Louie, now a father-of-three, added: “I love food. I still enjoy my fitness but my mindset has changed.”

mental health crisis eating disorder children rise

Sharp rise in young patients (Image: Patric Sandri/ Getty Images)

The sorry state of services 

Research carried out by Beat last year shows:

  • On average, people wait almost three-and-a-half years to get treatment for their eating disorder.

  • They visit their GP three times before they get a referral for a specialist assessment, and have to wait more than six months for treatment to start.

  • Adults wait for twice as long as children and adolescents before seeking treatment.

  • Boys and men with eating disorders have to wait longer than girls and women.


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