NHS waiting times for eating disorder treatments are at a ‘record high’, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.
The data, published in the ‘Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2021’, is a follow up to a 2017 survey. The report found that the number of young people aged 11-16 years of age with possible eating problems had risen from 6.7% in 2017 to 13% in 2021. For children aged 17-19, it had increased from 44.6% to 58.2% over the same period.
Young people with anorexia were identified as most at risk. These experiences have only worsened due to the pandemic, with the Royal College of Psychiatrists warning about the lengthy waiting times for routine treatment and urgent care.
Dr Agnes Ayton, Chair of the Faculty of Eating Disorders Psychiatry, at the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPych), said:
“Many young people have not received support early enough, causing their eating disorders to become much worse and harder to treat.”
Enormous demand has been put on services
The figures help paint a challenging picture for youth mental health services. It was discovered that within the older age bracket of 17- to 23-year-olds, 52.5% experienced deterioration in their mental health since 2017, and 15.2% experienced improvement. Whereas, in the younger bracket of 6- to 16-year-olds, 39.2% had experienced deterioration, and 21.8% experienced improvement.
With so many young people experiencing a deterioration in their mental health, it highlights the enormous demand placed on services. Other mental health services are concerningly unable to offer their services to the amount of people needed. This has a domino effect on all young people suffering. While waiting times continue to increase, young people will be left with limited options for accessible help, leading to an escalation in symptoms.
The correlation between the results of increased probable mental disorders and the use of social media during the pandemic is striking. Earlier this month, Dr Mark Norris, from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, described to CNN the possible triggers that the pandemic has caused for eating disorder sufferers, including the pandemic itself. He explained that young people had more time to turn to other activities, such as social media use, which he said: "Might not be in their overall best developmental interest”.
This conclusion was highlighted in the NHS report, as 63.8 % of children aged 11-16 years with a probable mental disorder spent more time on social media than they intended; it was found to be most likely in girls.
Government investment in community early intervention hubs is essential
In September of last year, the leading mental health charity Mind also called on the Government to improve services for eating disorders. Leila Reyburn, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said at the time:
"With a record number of under 18s seeking mental health support through the NHS, Mind is calling on the UK Government to invest in early intervention hubs in communities and give the NHS sufficient funding to meet demand."
This view is now also being echoed by the RCPych, who are calling on the Government to take action to prevent the backlog from increasing any more through investment in early intervention hubs.