Eating disorders impacted by COVID-19 pandemic, Kingston experts say

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Eating disorders impacted by pandemic
WATCH: Kingston Health Sciences Centre's Director of Mental Health and Addictions programs says eating disorder referrals increased by 45% between 2020 and 2021 – May 3, 2022

Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp rise in eating disorders, something that is often left out of mental health conversations.

Chloe Grande was first diagnosed with life threatening anorexia when she was fifteen.

Read more: Kingston’s COVID-19 deaths in April surpass any previous month

Now an eating disorder recovery blogger and speaker, Grande found herself struggling during the pandemic.

“There was already that anxiety around grocery store shopping which was heightened for me, so I felt like it wasn’t even safe for me to go to the grocery store and get that proper nourishment that I needed,” she says.

But help for eating disorders has been harder to access in the COVID-19 years.

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“When COVID hit, all those services abruptly got shifted or eliminated and it really caused havoc for everybody who was struggling with eating disorders,” says registered psychotherapist Rose Bruce.

According to Canada’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre, the first wave of the pandemic saw new cases of anorexia and atypical anorexia increase by 60 per cent, and monthly hospitalizations nearly tripled compared to pre-pandemic rates.

“Between 2020 and 2021 we’ve had an increase of over 45 per cent of the referrals that come to our program,” says Kingston Health Sciences Centre Director of Mental Health and Addictions Nicholas Axas.

Axas says that ongoing support is essential for people with eating disorders because relapses are common.

“For the first time in years we have a waiting list for some of our programs,” Axas says.

Eating disorders historically were the leading cause of death due to mental health among young people between 15 and 24.

During the pandemic, it was surpassed only by opioid deaths in that age group.

With 10 years’ experience coping with her eating disorder, Grande was all too aware of the dangers a pandemic relapse could bring.

Read more: Kingston Humane Society dealing with unprecedented numbers of dogs

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“I was very tired of cycling through this recovery, relapse, recovery, relapse,” Grande says. “So I reached out to a therapist that specialized solely in eating disorders.”

Grande was able to get the help she needed.

She hopes by sharing her story others will also recognize the need to ask for help, since it is currently harder to come by.

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