New stats show a surge in the number of people seeking help for eating disorders.
HSE figures show there were 258 referrals to Ireland’s three specialist treatment hubs between January and June – which is more than the 228 recorded throughout 2020.
It also marks an 80% increase on the 143 recorded in 2019, although one hub treating children and adolescents in Cork and Kerry, only opened in May of that year.
The HSE has said the rises are likely due to COVID and pandemic-related restrictions.
The three treatment hubs only cover patients based in south Dublin, Kildare and west Wicklow, Cork and Kerry.
Referrals outside of these areas were not included in the figures – meaning the overall number of people seeking help for eating disorders across the country is likely far higher.
The HSE said figures for all counties, not just the ones with specialist hubs, were not immediately available, noting that the recent cyber-attack has made gathering data more difficult.
The increase in referrals comes after an article published in the Irish Medical Journal (IMJ) in January said there had been a 66% rise in hospital admissions for eating disorders during 2020 compared to 2019. It said COVID was likely a major cause of this.
In a statement, the HSE said: “An increase in eating disorder presentations in the context of the COVID pandemic is being reported both in Ireland and internationally for all ages. “
It said research to date has shown the increase is due to a “combination of factors” including:
- Isolation and loneliness with restrictions
- Exposure to triggering messages, including possible lack of food supply to supermarkets
- Lack of structure and routine with school closures and home working
- Reduced contact with mental health services.”
Susan Brennan from support group Caring and Recovering from Eating Disorders (CRED) said more specialist services are needed.
“There needs to be more trained people within the community,” she said. “In a lot of cases, people in crisis end up being admitted to a general hospital.
“The specialised teams aren’t in those hospitals; they don’t have an understanding of eating disorders.”
Eating disorder treatment plan
Ireland’s eating disorder treatment plan, which envisages 16 specialist hubs across the country, has been consistently underfunded in recent years.
Under the plan, eight hubs would be for adults and eight for children and adolescents (CAMHS).
Since 2016, €5.7m has been allocated to the plan but just €1.8m has been spent, with new funding frozen in 2020.
However, the government has pledged to reverse this and set up three new teams by the end of 2021. These would include a CAMHS service for Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, and adult services covering Dublin North, Cork and Kerry.