'Food focus' sparks spike in eating disorder SOS calls
PUBLISHED: 16:35 04 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:36 04 January 2020
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A sharp rise in the number of people seeking emergency help from a Suffolk charity to cope with eating disorders has been blamed on a "food focus" over Christmas.
The festive season can be known for plentiful food, which makes it all the harder for people with illnesses like anorexia and bulimia to manage.
As NHS Digital Data showed that hospital admissions nationally rose sharply in 2018/19 - to 19,040, from 16,558 the year before and 13,885 the year before that - Suffolk-based Wednesday's Child said it received a rise in calls during the yuletide period.
Debbie Watson, who founded the charity to support people with eating disorders after her own battle against anorexia for 20 years, said: "We always knew that we might well see a spike in calls, messages and enquiries over the Christmas season.
"Christmas is a very difficult period for someone with a mental health illness as complex as an eating disorder, not least because of the amount of food focus that goes on during that time.
"We've had calls and emails directly from those suffering, but also from concerned family members, from social workers wanting to make referrals, and from schools who are determined to be more helpful and supportive of their pupils in the coming year."
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Having launched in the summer last year, Wednesday's Child has been providing a listening service throughout the Christmas period and has seen many families and sufferers make contact, as well as referral enquiries from health trusts and schools.
It already holds events to support sufferers and provides coaching - and will hold a programme specifically for parents of children with eating disorders early in 2020.
It is also bringing in a bespoke service into a number of schools in the county.
"The rise in hospital admissions is obviously really troubling, and indicates, as we already know, that eating disorders are a huge - and growing - problem," said Ms Watson.
"What these statistics don't tell us, however, is how many individuals and families are not getting access to the level of healthcare and medical intervention they so desperately need, at a time when it could stand to make a difference.
"Eating disorders need to be stopped in their path early, but many will battle on for a long time, with their illness becoming more and more entrenched.
"For each one of these acknowledged patients getting access to hospital care, there will be others who have not yet been regarded as 'sick enough' and are therefore battling on alone, or within a family environment where everyone is at a loss as to what to do for the best."
For more information about Wednesday's Child's work, email here.