February 27, 2015
The number of people contacting a helpline for eating disorders rose by 30% last year according to Bodywhys, the national voluntary organisation for those affected by the condition.
First Published: Irish Examiner, 24-Feb-2015
The majority of callers were aged 25 to 35, while the second highest group of callers were aged 15 to 18. The group also recorded an 84% increase in people using YouthConnect, an online support group for teenagers. One fifth of these were new users.
Bodywhys said it had seen a rise in the amount of men making contact, representing one in every 10 callers, and while men also suffered from eating disorders they found it harder to talk about it than women.
“Eating disorders are a coping mechanism,” said Harriet Parsons, services co-ordinator with Bodywhys.
“They are complex, often occur in secret, are not always obvious to others and, in some cases, may be part of someone’s life for a number of years.”
Around 200,000 people in Ireland suffer from an eating disorder, with 400 cases emerging each year. The conditionis thought to result in 80 deaths annually. The main types of disorders relate to anorexia, bulimia and also binge-eating. Bodywhys has released the figures to coincide with Eating Disorders Awareness Week which runs until March 1.
Ms Parsons said while their services have seen an increase, this does not mean more people are developing eating disorders — it means more people are now talking about the issue.
“There’s a general increase in awareness thanks to various mental health campaigns and anti-stigma campaigns. We’ve also seen a growing awareness of our own organisation and the work we do and of eating disorders in general. More people are realising recovery is possible, and it’s okay to talk about it,” she said.
“Despite the fear that may come from speaking out, it is positive to see many people coming forward for help and support. The growth in contacts with our helpline and online groups shows people with eating disorders value a safe and non-judgmental space to talk about what they are going through.”
Ms Parsons also said there can be a common trigger among sufferers.
“What you find is there has been a situation that has happened in their life that for them, they have felt challenging, they need to have a strong sense of self.
“Then often what happens is that there is a crack in that, a faultline in their sense of self. The eating disorder comes in to build that up and gives them a sense of power, a sense of control,” she said.
Bodywhys CEO Jacinta Hastings encouraged anyone with an eating disorder to make contact, saying they can access support without judgment.