The number of contacts about young people aged 11 to 17 years old in Northern Ireland has increased over 13 times in the last four years, according to our new data.
Between April 2019 and March 2020, we received just 3 contacts from or about young people aged 11 to 17 years old in Northern Ireland, but this increased to 44 contacts between April 2022 and March 2023.
While the pandemic was a particularly stressful time for children and young people in Northern Ireland, with many developing an eating disorder for the first time or becoming more unwell, these latest findings reveal that eating disorders are still very common even after the pandemic.
In general, we provided almost 2,000 support sessions to people of all ages between April 2022 to March 2023, which is over 3 times more than before the pandemic.
We expect that demand for eating disorder support will increase this festive season. To help carers, we've opened spaces for its free Coping with Celebrations training course, where families can receive guidance and get support for their own mental health. The course includes:
Coping with Celebrations is funded by the Community Foundation Northern Ireland and spaces are available to book until 13th December through our website.
We also provide year-round support for carers outside of the festive season. POD is an online platform which includes interactive e-learning modules about eating disorders and safe spaces to speak to other families about their experiences.
A mother from Belfast, who helped her daughter recover from an eating disorder says: ‘Caring for someone in your family with an eating disorder is like having the worst experience imaginable day in and day out. And yet no one ever asks how your child is, how your other kids are or how you are.
‘You walk the path completely alone - except for Beat. They have support groups with other carers in your position, they run courses to help you to understand how to get through, and they have online chat services when you can’t see a future without an eating disorder destroying your child, your family, your life.
‘Having an eating disorder is a very lonely, isolating and painful experience for everyone involved. Beat helped me see that we could get through the darkness and that a life without this illness would be possible.’
Nicola Armstrong, Beat’s National Lead for Northern Ireland says: ‘This time of year can be very difficult for carers who are supporting a loved one with an eating disorder. There’s a huge focus on food and socialising with others, and we know that many people with eating disorders and their families feel incredibly stressed and isolated by the change in routine.
‘We often speak to families who feel overwhelmed and in need of a safe space to talk about their worries. Our Coping with Celebrations programme helps carers across Northern Ireland to look after their own mental health, support their loved one and connect with others in similar positions. Carers can’t pour from an empty cup and we’d urge families to get in touch with us if they’re struggling.’
Professor Siobhan O'Neill, Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland says: ‘I’m very grateful to Beat for all the work they do to help people with eating disorders and their families. The festive season can be particularly difficult, and I would encourage anyone who is struggling, including carers, to connect with Beat for support.
‘I know that some people are having difficulty accessing appropriate eating disorder services and treatments in Northern Ireland, so I very much welcome the resources available from Beat. I would encourage anyone struggling during the festive period to please reach out for support.’
If you're worried about yourself or a loved one, we'd encourage you to reach out to your GP as soon as possible. You can also access information and advice 365 days a year via our website. Recovery is possible and we are here to help.