THE Eating Disorder Centre Cork (EDCC) witnessed a surge in activity last year as eating disorder presentations spiked amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The EDCC is a not-for-profit counselling and support centre based at Penrose Quay that provides services for people with eating disorders and their families.
Its services are available without referral from a GP and are provided on a sliding scale, subsidised by funding from the HSE.
At times last year, the centre was seeing up to 75% more presentations, including people with newly diagnosed eating disorders and people who had suffered relapses in their recovery.
Erin O’Reilly, clinical manager of the centre, said the service is “stretched to the max” and, like other eating disorder services across Ireland, is in dire need of more funding to tackle the sudden surge in eating disorder issues.
Speaking to The Echo, Ms O’Reilly said that the last six months of 2020 brought with it a sudden spike in eating disorders across Cork.
“Over the summer, we would have seen a 75% increase, especially over August and just before Christmas,” she said.
“Overall, we would have seen a 60% increase during the whole year.
“We used to have on average approximately six new clients a month.
“Now, we have over 20 new clients a month.
“It’s been very, very busy.”
Ms O’Reilly said that the EDCC could get 25 calls a day from people in distress, seeking support either online or in person; parents looking for advice for children with eating disorders, or people seeking information on the service.
As well as the sudden surge in new clients, services are dealing with a different type of distress brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, said Ms O’Reilly.
“The level of distress is different as well, there’s a lot of panic.
“We’re seeing college students and secondary school students, especially Leaving Cert students, who are distressed.
“We’re also seeing a wider age group; our age range at the moment is ranging from 10 to 80 years of age.
“A lot of it is about loneliness and a lack of support from peers.
“People who maybe did okay during the first lockdown are now struggling and feel they can’t reach out, and when they do, it’s often built up over time.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact.
“The current situation is hard for everyone.
“They’re stuck at home, stressed about the situation, homeschooling and more, and the parents might be stressed about work and trying to help out with school work.
“We have seen people dealing with anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge eating, comfort over-eating, and more.
“Whatever the diagnosis, people’s eating disorders just seemed to go into overdrive because of the pandemic.
“We have seen a lot of comfort eating and binge eating because of boredom, loneliness, fear, and other issues,” said Ms O’Reilly.
Doctors from the College of Psychiatrists in Ireland warned recently that a “tsunami” of mental health issues is coming down the tracks once this pandemic ends.
Eating disorder issues will be included in that wave, said Ms O’Reilly.
“A lot of people are just holding on and holding on because of the current situation,” she said.
“Once things let up, we’ll see what the repercussions of this are.
“Someone said to me recently that they hope mental health services have a lot of money set aside to combat what is coming down the line.
“Now is the time for the Government to fund services, and ensure people can access support.”
In 2018, a total of €1.5m was allocated for the development of eating disorder services across Ireland.
However, just €137,000 of this money was spent.
“Everyone in the sector was shocked when that money wasn’t spent — it’s badly, badly needed,” said Ms O’Reilly.
“There’s only a handful of beds for eating disorders around Ireland and, even though CAMHS are supporting children with eating disorders, there’s little or no support for over 18s.
“We’re stretched to the max,” she added.
“We could do with more funding to cater for more online therapies, online groups, and other services and resources.
“We’re scrambling to do our best and any more funding would be welcome to provide those much-needed services for patients and their families as well.
“We’re stretched to the limit.
“We could do with doubling our service and, even then, we’d still struggle to support all those in need.”
As well as eating disorder services, health services across Cork have noted the recent surge in eating disorder issues, said Ms O’Reilly.
“We have A&Es ringing us, doctors and nurses who are distraught because they can’t take people in as they’re stretched to the limit and they’re unsure where to send people with eating disorders in the current climate,” she said.
“We have GPs and therapists calling as well because it’s a specialised service.
“We also have dentists calling as well because, with the likes of bulimia, they can see the erosion in people’s teeth,” she added.
Ms O’Reilly highlighted the importance of ensuring more hospital beds are made available for those in need of hospital admission as a result of eating disorders.
“We need more hospital beds for people who are critical with eating disorders.
“When a person’s BMI is below 14 and they need hospitalisation, it is crucial that those beds are in place.
“People are afraid to go to hospitals in the current circumstances so having those beds available for admissions is important,” she added.
When the pandemic arrived in Ireland, the EDCC, like many health services, was forced to curtail its service in terms of face-to-face consultations.
However, the current restrictions allow for face-to-face appointments and Ms O’Reilly said the EDCC is working hard to provide these and other avenues to those in need.
The EDCC is offering phone and video consultations as well as in-person consultations for people who want to attend.
“We have a large office space with lots of room to spread out and socially distance,” she said.
“We open the windows and have high ceilings so it’s well ventilated.
“If someone needs face-to-face, we can provide that.
“During the first lockdown, we could only do online consultations but now we’re offering a mix.
“For safety reasons, we limit the number of therapists in the office at any one time so we’re not meeting people in the hall.
“We are open and available for people in need of consultations, support, or advice,” said Ms O’Reilly.