It’s no secret that lockdowns are detrimental to mental health. Although every individual is impacted differently, it can be particularly challenging for those recovering from an eating disorder. Emotions of uncertainty, fear and loneliness combined with a sudden change in routine can impede progress and see old habits return.
UK based charity Beat Eating Disorders reported a 173% increase in demand for their services between February 2020 and January 2021 (Pandey, 2020). Similarly, The Butterfly Foundation noted a 57% increase in calls to their helpline over the duration of the pandemic. Christine Morgan, National Mental Health Commission Chief Executive, identified eating disorders as the main contributor to the surge in demand for mental health services during 2020 (Le Grand, 2020).
Several reasons can be attributed to this trend. Firstly, structure often plays a key component in recovery. The sudden closure of gyms, cancellation of sporting activities and restricted time limits for outdoor activity can be especially difficult. Those accustomed to a particular exercise and diet schedule may be compelled to make unhealthy dietary changes if they are unable to complete the exercise component. Secondly, isolation can diminish accountability, causing individuals to quickly lose control of their habits and thoughts (Touyz et. al, 2020). Finally, with limited activities to engage with while locked up inside, it’s easy to see why eating and exercise habits can become all consuming.
Evidently, the true cost of lockdowns goes far beyond the economic consequences. However, unlike unemployment, mental health consequences are difficult to quantify. Recognising this, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo noted that “people are struggling with the emotions just as much as they are struggling with the economics” when New York entered its first lockdown in early 2020 (Wright, 2020). Covid-19 is a once in a 100-year pandemic, which has impacted everyone in a unique way. As Melbourne enters its fourth lockdown, it’s important to keep this in mind.
Early treatment can be key to getting back on track. Even the mildest symptoms should be addressed, and it’s essential to recognise that individuals can experience disordered eating without also experiencing dramatic physical changes. If you are living in Melbourne and experiencing eating disorder symptoms during lockdown it may be time to seek professional help. Our therapists at BodyMatters Australasia were thrilled to learn that the Australian Federal Government has extended telehealth services until December 2021, allowing us to reach interstate clients. Please contact our team to book arrange a session with one of our therapists if you require support during this challenging time. Similarly, if you suspect a relative or friend may be struggling with an eating disorder during lockdown, communicate, acknowledge their concerns and assist them in seeking professional help if appropriate. Even checking in with them may go a long in terms of alleviating feelings of isolation and loneliness. Remind them that getting help is a sign of strength not weakness and that they are not alone.
In the event you are placed on a waitlist, consider contacting an organisation such as The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673 or Lifeline on 131 114 in the interim. Unfortunately, waitlists have become increasingly common over the past 12 months nationwide due to the dramatic increase in demand for these services (O’Flaherty & Levingston, 2021; Swinburne University of Technology, 2020). BodyMatters will be publishing an additional article in the following weeks advising individuals and their support networks on additional management tips while waiting for their therapist to become available. Be sure to keep an out for this post, and do not hesitate to contact our office if you have any questions.
Written by Lauren Stewart
Le Grand, C. (2020). Surge in eating disorders reveals ‘tragedy’ of lockdown, Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/national/surge-in-eating-disorders-reveals-tragedy-of-lockdown-20201212-p56mwy.html
O’Flaherty, A & Levingston, R. (2021). Mental health need increases amid long waitlists for professional help, sharp rise in emergency presentations. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-03-17/waitlist-for-mental-health-appointments-amid-sharp-rise-in-need/13253612.
Pandey, M. (2020). Anorexia: ‘Difficult’ to get proper support in lockdown. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-56689670.
Swinburne University of Technology. (2020). COVID has Presented Unique Challenges for People with Eating Disorders. They’ll need support beyond the Pandemic. https://www.swinburne.edu.au/news/2020/11/covid-has-presented-unique-challenges-for-people-with-eating-disorders-they-will-need-support-beyond-the-pandemic/.
Touyz, S, Lacey, H & Hay, P. (2020). ‘Eating Disorders in the time of Covid-19,’ Journal of Eating Disorders,’ 8(9), 1-3.
Wright, R. (2020). How Loneliness from Coronavirus Isolation takes its own toll. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/how-loneliness-from-coronavirus-isolation-takes-its-own-toll.