Suffolk: Huge rise in eating disorders among the vulnerable young

THE number of teenagers seeking help for eating disorders in the county has rocketed by more than 50 per cent in the last five years, shocking new figures have revealed.

And last year there were more hospital admissions for under-18s sufferers than ever before, an eating disorders expert has claimed.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request reveal 327 people contacted Suffolk Mental Health Trust’s eating disorders team over a five-year period.

In 2007, 48 youngsters under 18 received help from the service. But the number of teens being treated jumped to 73 in 2011 – a 52pc increase.

Dr Vicky Moss, clinical psychologist and clinical lead in eating disorders for Suffolk’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), said there has been a noticeable increase in the severity of cases in recent months.


You may also want to watch:


“It is a feature of our society – there is more focus on food and appearance, and we have seen a lot more boys coming through too.

“We have certainly seen an increase in the severity of cases and as a result we have seen more [hospital] admissions. Very frequently we are seeing people who are really quite poorly.

Most Read

“There are usually about six or seven hospital admissions a year but since April 2012 there have been more than ever before.”

The figures also reveal the average length of treatment for patients was 335 days.

According to Dr Moss, sufferers tend to be girls and the majority (60pc) have anorexia nervosa.

She added: “We quite regularly go into schools to do teaching and training.

“[When the patient is young] we have got a bit more hope because it is the first time it has happened and they are usually more set up to get the help of family.”

Referrals tend to come from GPs, paediatricians, school nurses and dieticians. Around 64 per cent of those referred are seen within one month.

A former anorexia sufferer from Ipswich, who wishes to remain anonymous, agreed the situation is worse now than ever before.

“I think there is a huge increase in the pressures on those under 18 – school pressures, life pressures, peer pressures,” she said. “I am now 25 and I was first diagnosed when I was 16, and in the space of that time, it has got even worse.

“The assumption that eating disorders is to do with vanity is incredibly misleading but it certainly doesn’t help having these people across all the magazines saying how much happier they are being thin.”

The university student, who plans to train as a teacher, said she was diagnosed around the time of her GCSEs. She said she was in a highly pressurised school and moved around a lot. “I received treatment until I was 21. I had two hospital admissions. I will still be in recovery for the rest of my life but I’m much healthier now than I ever have been.”

CASE STUDY ONE

Holly Baker, a former Westbourne Sports College student who is now at university in London, had been a happy young girl but her world fell apart when her mother, Barbara, who had previously been diagnosed with cancer, died after a car crash on the A14.

Holly, now 22, was diagnosed at the age of 19. She believed the figures represent an increase in awareness of eating disorders among medical staff.

“I’m always a little sceptical about the research which says that cases are rising. I think this may be mainly due to doctors recognising the signs of eating disorders more readily – which is great, really.

“It must be remembered that anorexia and dieting are very different things – anorexia is a serious mental illness with the highest fatalities of any other mental illness, but a lot of people diet and do not end up having to go to hospital.

“The increase in severity I think may be mostly within relapse patients. I was lucky enough to get NHS funding to go to a private hospital, but a lot of the people I met in hospital had been to NHS hospitals which had, ultimately, made them worse.

“This is because of the lack of staff mainly – if you put lots of anorexic patients in a room together without supervision, the competitive aspect of anorexia will come out and people will want to be the thinnest, the most ill, etc and will exchange tips and tricks.

“Therefore, when they are discharged, they will want to lose even more weight this time to be the ‘better anorexic’ and they know exactly how to do it.

“Of course, this is not true with all NHS eating disorder patients, but the vast majority that I have encountered have had this mindset.”

CASE STUDY TWO

Miranda Bunting, from Shelley near Hadleigh, battled anorexia from 2009 to 2012.

The 22-year-old ex-Amberfield student is now fully recovered and studying Nutrition at Roehampton University but she believes pro-anorexia sites are a “serious cause for concern” for other young people.

Miranda feels the sites put “too much emphasis put on body image and the ideal look” and promoting anorexia as a “lifestyle choice” is wrong.

“The whole thing about anorexia is that it’s a mental illness,” she said. “It’s not a lifestyle choice at all.

“Something like a pro-anorexia site can be the thing that pulls the trigger.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter