With the outbreak of the pandemic, the world has seen firsthand how urgent the demand for effective therapies has grown. In fact, according to Wassenaar of the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, “eating disorders don’t get better in isolation, they get worse.”
Many people have reported feeling a lack of control over various elements of their lives, which specialists say has been particularly tough for those suffering from eating disorders. When compared to pre-pandemic levels, the percentage of new, extremely sick patients coming by air ambulance to Denver Health’s ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders and Severe Malnutrition, a national intensive care unit, increased approximately fourfold between April and June 2020.
The prevalence of disordered eating has grown, according to studies of persons with and without eating disorders, with behaviours such as restricting particular foods, dieting, bingeing or purging, increased melancholy and anxiety, among other things. Individuals suffering from eating problems showed the same patterns as the general population. People with eating disorders reported being concerned or extremely concerned about the pandemic’s effects on their mental health earlier in the epidemic than they did about the pandemic’s physical health (76 percent versus 45 percent).
“That really stood out to me,” says Bulik, who co-ordinated one of the polls with colleagues from the Netherlands. “It was a good sign.” We suddenly found ourselves without social support or structure in our lives.
As Wassenaar points out, the epidemic has also had a negative impact on teenagers who are struggling to overcome an eating disorder. When comparing the average of the preceding three years, the number of teenagers admitted to a children’s hospital in Michigan for eating disorders more than doubled over the year from April 2020 to March 2021. It is necessary for children to travel outside the house, make connections with their peers, and establish a sense of autonomy and invincibility throughout their teenage years, according to Wassenaar; the epidemic, however, took away many of those opportunities. “Teens perceive the world as a dangerous place,” says the researcher.
As a result, practically all treatment sessions had to be conducted through video conference due to the lockdown. However, people who were previously unable to receive counselling from a practitioner who was well-versed in the treatment of eating disorders may find this change beneficial. Research has already demonstrated that telehealth cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was as beneficial as face-to-face CBT for a number of mental diseases, including bulimia. This was even before the epidemic. Many people like the ease of conducting sessions from the comfort of their own home. Therapy professionals expect that the use of virtual sessions will assist to reduce driving time and the number of missed appointments, as well as increase access to remote regions.
Dr. Agras has been studying eating disorders for more than 60 years and believes that this type of therapy will become increasingly common.