Cork eating disorder centre providing a nurturing voice in lockdown crisis

Cork eating disorder centre providing a nurturing voice in lockdown crisis
Erin O’Reilly, clinical manager, of the Eating Disorder Centre Cork.

LOCKDOWN measures in Ireland to combat the Covid-19 pandemic can be problematic for people who have eating disorders.

However, the Eating Disorder Centre Cork (EDCC) is keen to let people with eating disorders know that support is still available.

Speaking to The Echo, Erin O’Reilly, clinical manager of the EDCC, said the centre is still open for anyone who needs advice, tips, or help during this difficult time.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality and morbidity of all of the mental health conditions, and it is estimated that they affect 4% of the population.

According to the HSE’s Model of Care for Eating Disorders, approximately 190,000 people in Ireland will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives and an estimated 2,000 new cases occur in Ireland each year in the 10-49 age group.

The EDCC, a not-for-profit counselling and support centre, based at Penrose Quay, has recorded an increase in calls to the service since the lockdown was introduced, beginning with the closure of schools on March 13.

Ms O’Reilly said that they are offering free phone consultations for people struggling with eating disorders, or for concerned family members and friends seeking advice.

Ms O’Reilly said she is concerned about the impact the lockdown may have on people with eating disorders.

“We would be very concerned, because this is a time when people could struggle with relapsing,” she said.

“We’re putting up tips and advice online about relapsing.

“But we’re also urging anyone who is struggling to pick up the phone and call or text us — a kind voice on the other end can really make all the difference,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“It’s free to just pick up the phone and call, so please get in touch.

“We’re the only service for eating disorders in the south of Ireland, so people really need us and they need to stay in contact.

“We don’t want to lose anyone to isolation or have anyone feel they are alone, so we’re keeping the phone lines open all the time,” Ms O’Reilly said.

She is performing online first-time consultations, before clients are then referred to a counsellor contracted to the EDCC, for follow-up appointments and therapy.

“I’m offering a free session for anyone who wants to ring the phone line, if they’re struggling or seeking advice. It’s open to anyone, including clients old and new, family members of people, and friends,” she said.

“I think it’s important, in this climate, to offer this session for free, as people are out of work and unsure of their finances.

“Our counsellors are still doing their normal therapy and we’re doing online assessments for new clients — we’re still open to new clients,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“We’re improving our online presence and social media, as well as our communications through these channels, to make sure people know we’re here and they feel supported.”

When the pandemic first broke in Ireland, and services began to shut down, the EDCC, like other organisations, had to adapt to the strange situation.

“At the beginning, like everyone else, we were not sure as to what was the best course of action,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“So, we began by staggering appointments, so that fewer people were in our offices at Penrose Quay.

“We then shut down completely, when we were advised by the HSE,” she said.

“At the moment, we’re counselling through phone calls, WhatsApp, and Zoom — we’re working depending on the preference of the person.”

Some clients found the transition from face-to-face consultations to online communication difficult.

“At the beginning, some clients weren’t too keen on these methods of communication, because they were so used to face-to-face interaction,” she said.

“But, as time has gone on, we’re all progressing as a nation and we’re coming up with new ways to communicate and link in.

“And, I think, our clients are becoming more used to this new process,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“We’re also becoming more used to it ourselves; it’s certainly been a learning experience. We’re all learning together and we’re all in it together.”

Ms O’Reilly was clinical manager for only a short while before the pandemic broke. “It’s certainly a learning curve, but we’re doing the best we can,” she said.

“Our service is still open and available for people who need it.”

The EDCC offers counselling on a sliding scale for people on lower incomes.

“We never turn anyone away, even if they can’t afford the sliding scale,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“We will never turn anyone away and that’s what we really pride ourselves on.

“We can make it work together,” she said.

The EDCC has recorded a marked increase in calls to the service since the lockdown.

“The phone is ringing a lot and that’s great, because the more people that ring in, the better,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“It lets people know they’re not alone.

“We’ve noticed a huge increase in calls since this situation started,” she added.

The demand is so high, she plans to get a new phone to allow people to text in via WhatsApp for free. The phone line is mainly being used by concerned family members of people with eating disorders.

“They’re ringing in because they’re noticing things, now they’re in lockdown and everyone is so close, and everyone is nervous and unsure,” Ms O’Reilly said.

She provides tips and information for family members and for friends of people with eating disorders to be aware of.

“Some people may show early signs of eating disorders, which may include a change in personality, withdrawing from family or friends,” said Ms O’Reilly.

“Or body insecurity, increased focus on weight or shape, or a change in eating habit and behaviours, changes in rituals around food and eating times, increased consumption, drinking more fluids, increased use of weighing scales, more time spent in the bathroom, or lying about mealtimes.

“There can also be physical changes,” Ms O’Reilly said, “like tiredness, restlessness, thinning hair, loss of interest in physical relationships, loss of periods, fluid retention, constipation, weight loss.

“We’re trying to take away the shame or embarrassment that shouldn’t be there, and add a bit of hope.

“We’re also trying to get families to educate themselves a bit more on eating disorders, because families can play a huge part in the recovery.”

Ms O’Reilly also provides tips and advice on relapse prevention.

“For most people in recovery from an eating disorder, relapse is a part of the journey,” she said.

“While relapse is often seen as a negative experience, a lot can be learned from a relapse. Through relapse, a person is often able to discover strength and courage and gain resilience, self-knowledge, confidence, and opportunities for growth and change,” Ms O’Reilly said, and she provided this advice: “Recognise your triggers; embrace your coping skills; celebrate you and your accomplishments; do your best to minimise obsessional thinking; find your voice; enlist support: repeat, repeat, repeat.”

Ms O’Reilly encouraged people to check out the EDCC website and social media pages for advice and tips.

She also urged anyone who thinks they might be struggling, or who is in need of help or advice, to pick up the phone and call or text the EDCC, for free, on their new WhatsApp contact number, 085 2451401.

“We have Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and we’re constantly updating them with tips and facts about how to get through this time, about recovery, and other aspects,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“We’re using resources from the HSE and from other trusted recovery sites that we would use, and other people are using our information and tips, which is great.

“When it comes to eating disorders, people can feel very alone and very isolated, even if they’re with a group of people, because the understanding of eating disorders just might not be there,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“We’re trying to ensure that people with eating disorders do not feel that way, especially during this difficult time.

“We want them to know that there is always someone, like ourselves, there to support them and that they’re never on their own,” Ms O’Reilly said.

  • The EDCC can be found at the following links: https://twitter.com/EDCCork; https://www.facebook.com/eatingdisordercentrecork/; https://www.instagram.com/eatingdisordercentrecork/

The lockdown can be particularly stressful for people who have an eating disorder, but the help centre in Cork is still open, via phone and online, says Darragh Bermingham

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