'The increase is quite stark': Figures show rise in referrals to child and adolescent eating disorder service in Cork and Kerry

Dr Sinead O’Brien, clinical director of mental health services in Cork, said the increased referral rate highlights the demand for eating disorder support services.
'The increase is quite stark': Figures show rise in referrals to child and adolescent eating disorder service in Cork and Kerry

The Child and Adolescent Regional Eating Disorder Service for Cork and Kerry provides specialist eating disorder care for young people under the age of 18 years who have an eating disorder. Picture: Denis Minihane

Referrals to the child and adolescent eating disorder service in counties Cork and Kerry increased by around 30% this year.

The Child and Adolescent Regional Eating Disorder Service for Cork and Kerry provides specialist eating disorder care for young people under the age of 18 years who have an eating disorder.

It is part of the HSE National Clinical programme for Eating Disorders and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Cork and Kerry.

Information provided by Cork mental health services revealed that the number of referrals to the Child and Adolescent Regional Eating Disorder Service increased between January and November this year, when compared to 2020.

It is expected that the service will receive around 70 referrals a year.

However, in 2020, it received 119 referrals for child eating disorders. By November this year, the service had received 157 referrals.

Speaking to The Echo, Dr Sinead O’Brien, clinical director of mental health services in Cork, said the increased referral rate highlights the demand for eating disorder support services.

She said that the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions may have had a detrimental impact on people dealing with eating disorders, leading to increased demand for services.

“The specialist team for eating disorders have seen a 3.4 times increase in referrals between January and September 2021,” said Dr O’Brien.

“That is an indication of the need that’s out there.

“Eating disorders are an area that have been highlighted in children, young people and adults that have been impacted by Covid-19 and the consequences of lockdowns, isolation and school closures,” she said.

“It’s also the uncertainty that can bring about a lot of symptoms of anxiety and exacerbate existing difficulties. That increase in referrals is quite stark.”

Dr O'Brien added: “We’re very fortunate in Cork to have a specialised eating disorder team for children and adolescents - the majority of the country wouldn’t have that.

“But again, this just shows the demand that is out there.” 

An estimated 188,895 people in Ireland will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to HSE data.

It is estimated that approximately 1,757 new cases occur in Ireland each year in the 10 to 49 age group.

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