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Young people, carers and teachers must be supported in Scotland

The number of contacts about young people aged 17 and under in Scotland has increased tenfold in the last four years, according to the latest statistics here at Beat.

Between April 2019 and March 2020, we received just 17 contacts from or about children and young people in Scotland, but this increased to 195 contacts between April 2022 and March 2023.

During the same time period, we provided more than 22 times the number of support sessions about 13 to 14 year olds in Scotland, and over 11 times the number of support sessions about 13 to 17 year olds. The number of contacts about 4 to 12 year olds increased sevenfold.

To help young people in Scotland with eating disorders, we provide safe spaces for people to share their concerns via online support groups, web chats and helpline calls. We also supports families who are caring for a loved one with an eating disorder.

We run a free online platform for school professionals called SPOT, which gives school professionals the tools they need to spot the early warning signs of an eating disorder, speak to students and families about their concerns, and signpost everybody to quality eating disorder support. Thanks to funding from the Scottish Government and W M Mann Foundation, we provide and promote this training to primary and secondary teaching staff across Scotland.

Our free eating disorder support for carers includes:

The Scottish Government is funding all of Beat’s support services in Scotland to help those affected by eating disorders.

Kirsty Pavey, Beat’s National Lead for Scotland says: ‘It’s extremely worrying that more children and young people in Scotland have been needing support for an eating disorder. The pandemic was an awfully stressful time, with many young people experiencing unexpected changes in routine, worrying about the health of loved ones and being isolated away from friends.

‘While NHS staff are doing all they can to help every patient, demand for eating disorder support remains high, and at Beat we’re continuing to support people of all ages across the country. If anybody is worried about a loved one or a student, please reach out to us and to their GP or family as soon as possible, as the sooner somebody accesses help, the better their chances of making a full recovery.’

Lainey, a mother in Rural Angus who supported her daughter during her anorexia recovery says: ‘How do I fix this? Why? What did I do wrong? Why did I not pick this up earlier? These were just some of the questions I asked myself after my daughter was diagnosed with anorexia as I, without logical reasoning, completely blamed myself.

‘I joined several Beat online support groups which helped me and my family to navigate a serious and frightening journey with an eating disorder, to accept the twists and turns, and to see a way forward. I was able to share my story confidentially without any judgement or pressure. Beat also gave me the confidence and language to address issues and put in place the wider support needed for her ultimate recovery.’

Kerry Coull, who taught primary school students in Scotland for most of her career, says: 'Since the pandemic, I feel that the health and wellbeing of young children has declined. I have noticed in my own experiences as a teacher, and from speaking to colleagues, that more pupils over 10 years old seem to have issues with body image and have been referred to CAMHS for eating disorders.

'It’s essential that school staff know how to spot an eating disorder as the faster a young person can receive support, the better outcome they will have. Staff are with children for a large part of the day, and we are there to support children in a holistic way, ensuring that they are physically and emotionally in a place to learn. Beat's SPOT training is an excellent resource - I like that you can ask an eating disorder expert questions and access tutorials in your own time.'

Dr Kandarp Joshi, vice-chair of the CAMHS Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland says: ‘Working on the frontline, we noticed a big surge in young people presenting with serious eating disorders at the start of the pandemic, and the trend now seems to be returning to pre-pandemic levels. We must raise awareness and signpost young people and carers in the right direction at an early stage.

‘It’s great that Beat is helping to educate and support families, staff, carers, medical students and nurses. The College supports investment into the third sector alongside investment in specialist mental health services and it’s important to ensure our staff have the best skills available to them when treating those with eating disorders.

‘We’re calling on the Scottish Government to deliver on its promise to dedicate 1% of what is spent on health to support our children and young people through CAMHS by 2026, as well as one tenth of total health budget to be spent on mental health.’

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