Eating Disorders and the Pandemic

May 17, 2021

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Although there is so much hope on the horizon with the vaccine rollout and lifting restrictions; there are still so many people who have been struggling with their mental health since the pandemic began over a year ago. Reports of depression, anxiety, and even substance use disorders are at an all-time high for nearly every age group. And the demand for mental health services is up significantly.  

One mental health disorder that is up significantly that is not often talked about are eating disorders. This is probably because a lot of people don’t associate eating disorders with mental health, it is often just associated with food and a desire to look a certain way. This misconception is far from the truth though. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate for psychiatric diagnosis (second to opioid addiction).  

Over the course of the pandemic, hotline calls to the National Eating Disorders Association are up nearly 80%. Not only are people who have recovered from eating disorder relapsing, but people who have never experienced eating disorder are being newly diagnosed. At Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center (a treatment facility for mental health), patient volume grew 50% during the first few months of the pandemic, and has stayed at this rate until today.  

Many physicians and mental health providers are scratching their heads as to why eating disorder cases are up so much. Research is now showing that eating disorders are up because people are simply trying to cope with the immense levels of stress that they are under due to the pandemic. See, one of the biggest misconceptions about eating disorders is that they occur because someone (particularly white women) want to look a certain way. In reality though, anyone can have an eating disorder because it stems from the desire to control the external environment in order to mitigate the internal distress. The internal distress being the trauma, anxiety, or even stress.  

There are also many types of eating disorders too, which makes them hard to identify sometimes. Not to mention the horrible stereotype that only white women can have eating disorders, this leaves other genders and racial minorities at an even higher risk of being misdiagnosed or brushed off when reaching out for help. To learn more about the different types of eating disorders, check out this blog that I wrote a few months ago; click here to read it.  

If you think you are struggling with an eating disorder or know someone who is, Health & Wellness and PACS are here to help. Call Health & Wellness at (603) 862-9355. Call PACS at (603) 862-2090. The hotline at the National Eating Disorders Association is also a good resource and can be contacted at 1-800-931-2237.

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