Teens struggling with mental health issues like eating disorders: a cry for help

With the pandemic marking its first anniversary, there has been an alarming rise in the number of teenagers presenting with mental health issues, including eating disorders.

Since the start of the lock down, new diagnoses of anorexia nervosa have doubled at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, as teens present with extreme food restriction, weight loss and an intense fear of gaining weight. “I have never seen numbers like this before,” says Dr. Holly Agostino, Program Director of the Children’s Eating Disorder Clinic. “Not only are new presentations on the rise, but so is the need for hospitalization due to complications of malnutrition such as low heart rate or low blood pressure. Our rate of hospitalization for medical reasons has tripled since March 2020. More patients are presenting and they are presenting sicker.”

The tipping point = confinement

For many teens, the COVID-19 pandemic and confinement have turned their whole world upside down. In a recent article in Le Devoir, Dr. Agostino explains that the lockdown acted as a trigger for the development of eating disorders in many young people who lost their bearings. Deprived of their friends, a regular school routine and fun extracurricular activities that help cope with stress and depression, teens with pre-existing body image issues, anxiety or other mood disorders can develop a profound discomfort leading to anorexia for example.

Having battled anorexia before getting back on a healthy path, Irini, a patient at the Children’s, sympathizes with young people for whom COVID-19 has posed additional challenges. “It took over my existence,” she says. “While I recovered, my journey was tough, but it helped me build a foundation to stay safe and away from disordered eating.  The pandemic has caused negative consequences for many. To deal with the added uncertainty, stress and anxiety, some children and teens might have adopted unhealthy coping mechanisms. I understand their struggle. Remember, we are in this together!”

Possible signs of the illness include food avoidance, weight loss, avoiding eating with others, sudden changes in diet, and obsessive exercise. Eating disorders can also be associated with other mental health issues, like depression, anxiety and addiction. If you are worried for your child, get help. To start, talk with your family doctor.

How to help the cause

On January 28, let’s spread the word and help children and teens struggling with their mental health. Now more than ever, every action counts. #BellLetsTalk