The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on everyone’s health, but there is a particular concern for children.
CHEO says the number of young people requiring treatment for eating disorders in Ottawa and eastern Ontario has increased since the start of the pandemic last March..
“We’re seeing very, very ill kids come through our doors who need lots of treatment, and lots of support,” said Noah Spector, family therapist/social worker with the CHEO Eating Disorders Program. "A lot of people we see may not be able to access services otherwise; and, their children are just so sick, they have no choice but to come to hospital."
When children do arrive at CHEO, they are sicker then ever.
"The number of emergency assessments (i.e. consults from our Emergency Department for young people arriving through those doors in highly medically compromised states due to the symptoms of their eating disorder) requested since the beginning of the pandemic is up 50 per cent,” Spector wrote in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.
The pandemic is also taking a toll on mental health.
"Eating disorders have a large component of anxiety; and, I think in that in the world right now, we’re experiencing a heightened level of anxiety everywhere," says Spector.
The number of in-patient admissions is also up; admissions to CHEO between April 1 and Oct. 31, 2020 increased 63 per cent from the same period last year.
Spector says that eating disorders are serious.
"The stereotype of somebody that has an eating disorder, is something that has to do with vanity - that is not the case; eating disorders are very serious medical illnesses," said Spector.
Urgent care then turns to on-going therapy and support for those patients that need it. Nick Heisler is seeing that first-hand.
"We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who have been contacting us."
Heisler is the volunteer president with the Hopewell Eating Disorder Support Centre. They offer help to anyone affected, both child and adult patients; as well as their families.
"This is not a solvable thing like fixing a faucet; it takes a different and more supportive approach," said Heisler.
As a result of having to take their services online and virtual because of the pandemic, they’ve been able to increase their programming by 160 per cent this year.
"I think it’s critical for people to know that you’re not alone; and, that there are other people who have gone through this, and people do have periods of recovery, some people have permanent recovery,” says Heisler.
Hopewell is also looking to expand their support even further by March, and are actively seeking volunteers with experience in mental health. Or if you’re able to donate
CHEO says it's also looking to meet demand, by recruiting “staff and medical staff across mental health – Emergency Department Crisis Services, Eating Disorders Program and Inpatient Psychiatry."