Calls For Eating Disorder Support Have Increased 116%, But Charity Funding Hasn’t Changed
A year on from the first national lockdown, the UK is finally making headway in vaccinating its population and a return to pre-coronavirus life is in sight.
While England prepares to lift restrictions in the coming months, the last 12 months have had a far-reaching, long-term impact on people’s mental health.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, SEED Eating Disorder Support Services has seen a 56% increase in people presenting signs of disordered eating or suffering from eating disorders.
‘We also saw a 116% increase in out of area referrals. As a Hull-based charity, we do sometimes help people around the UK but we have never seen an out of area referral figure like that before,’ Gemma Oaten, the organisation’s manager says.
‘People are coming to us because they can’t get the help they need where they live,’ she adds.
The increase is a direct knock-on effect of the three national lockdowns England has been subjected to in the last year.
As Oaten explains, in many people, an eating disorder comes from the need to try and regain a sense of control over something when they feel they don’t have control of anything.
‘But now we’re in a world where control has been taken away from us completely. And of course, eating disorders are going to present themselves as one of the ways of coping, because it’s all about control. So coronavirus has had a massive, massive impact on lives,’ she says.
As it stands, charities like SEED are relying on donations from the public to keep them afloat. A report by the Charities Aid Foundation last year revealed that between January and June 2020, the public donated £5.4 billion to charity, an increase of £800 million from the same period in 2019.
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However, donations from the public alone are not enough to keep organisations afloat.
Analysis published by Pro Bono Economics in June 2020 predicted that charities in the UK would face a £10.1 billion funding gap at the same time as ‘demand for their support rises by the equivalent of £3.4 billion’.
A survey of 261 charities found one in 10 predict they will have to cease operating altogether during the pandemic because of strains on funding and income.
Worryingly, 72% of those surveyed said they had seen a sharp increase in demand for their services since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.
‘Charities and other civil society organisations play a vital role in the day-to-day lives of many millions of us – and even more so at times of crisis. That contribution is too often taken for granted, leaving the sector subject to chronic policy neglect. If we don’t funnel more resource to charities in the coming weeks, it’s clear that many will struggle to survive,’ chief executive Matt Whittaker said at the time.
Despite the huge increase in people needing help, eating disorder charities have not received any additional funding from the government.
Following the announcement of Rishi Sunak’s 2021 Budget, Pro Bono Economics said the chancellor had ‘missed the opportunity to support those many thousands of organisations up and down the country doing essential work on mental health’.
An added strain on mental health charities across the board has made it more difficult for smaller organisations to access the funding they normally would have relied on.
‘Now, where there was maybe 50 people going for the same pot, there might be 100, 150, or 200 charities going for the same fund,’ Oaten says.
‘What the government seems to be neglecting and forgetting is that there’s another form of frontline key workers in the voluntary sector, and we’re dealing with the mental health ramifications of coronavirus,’ Oaten says, adding that when it comes to eating disorders, early intervention is key.
As the number of those suffering from eating disorders has risen, the NHS has faced increased pressure to provide adequate help.
According to statistics released in February, of the 1,216 children and young people with eating disorders needing help in the last quarter of 2020, 511 were waiting more than four weeks before receiving treatment.
This is particularly worrying, given that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among mental health illnesses.
‘There’s a Robert down the road. There’s a John in Scotland, there are 1.6 million people in the UK, who are suffering from an eating disorder and they can’t get any help,’ Oaten says.
If charities like SEED had more financial support, they could ease the burden on mental health service referral waiting lists, she adds.
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As it stands, the route to get help is complicated. In order to be sectioned, a person must be non compos mentis, meaning that their condition has deteriorated to the point they can no longer talk.
This excludes a vast quantity of people who are suffering from a severe eating disorder but can outwardly communicate as normal.
‘You have these kids who are in starvation mode, but because they can speak normally and eloquently, they can’t be sectioned. Then, they have to go on a referral list to get help for the mental health side of what’s causing the disorder. By this point, their brain is already on shutdown, so it can’t actually take on therapy treatments,’ Oaten says.
She adds: ‘That approach takes lives. You can’t put physical attributes to a diagnosis of a mental health illness. And the sooner that the governments realises that, the sooner things might start to change.’
A government spokesperson told UNILAD it has allocated £50 million to 1,931 organisations across the country that specifically support those with mental health issues. It is unclear how much of this will be directed to eating disorder charities.
‘We know how important it is that people suffering from poor mental health have access to the help they need, particularly during this difficult time. Charities will continue to benefit from this major investment in the sector, and we remain committed to providing support wherever pressures are being felt,’ the spokesperson said.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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