The latest NHS data shows a 16% increase in hospital admissions for eating disorders in England, over a two year period.
Anorexia has been cited as the ‘deadliest mental illness’, and according to national figures is the eating disorder with the highest hospital admissions in England. Other eating disorders include bulimia, binge eating disorder, and ‘other specified feeding or eating disorder’ (OSFED).
The latter is diagnosed if a patient doesn’t ‘fit’ the symptoms of a named eating disorder, but is still treated as serious.
The latest data has also shown an increase in the number of hospital admissions for men.
Overall there were 19,116 admissions recorded in the years 2018/19 compared with 16,547 admissions in 2017/18.
So how do the national figures compare with Greater Manchester?
Greater Manchester also saw a rise in hospital admissions with a 5% overall increase from 2017/18. The biggest increase was seen in bulimia cases, with a 14% increase.
The worst affected group in Greater Manchester, which is also consistent with national figures, are women between the ages of 26-40.
Significantly, there were a number of eating disorder cases with children below the age of 12, whereas in 2017/18 there were none.
In a press release last October, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, Beat, said: “While this rise in the number of young children being diagnosed with anorexia could mean that the condition is developing at an earlier age than in the past, it could also be due to improvement in the ability of healthcare professionals to identify children with anorexia.”
Aside from getting help from your GP or a counsellor, there are also peer support groups sprouting up in local communities, such as the Seeds of Hope support group in Withington, Manchester.
The group was set up by Helen Bourne and Eleanor Shiers earlier this year. Both are recovering from eating disorders and wanted to help other women in a similar situation.
Ms Bourne said: “We lost a mutual friend from an eating disorder back in September, which was a really difficult time for us.
“It’s hit us hard that eating disorders can be deadly…and the more support that’s out there the better,” she added.
Ms Shiers suggested that sometimes eating disorders go undetected because they “thrive on secrecy.”
Both received support from the NHS to help them recover.
The causes of eating disorders have been hotly debated as to whether the causes are predominantly psychological, physical or cultural.
Pondering on this thought, Ms Shiers feels the link between eating disorders and body image is a misconception.
“With some people that is an aspect but it’s not the whole story,” she said.
Cultural influences that have come under scrutiny include the access of ‘pro-anorexia’ material online. This issue was brought to the House of Commons last year after tory MP Rachel Maclean claimed Amazon was selling books under a category called ‘pro-ana’ which appeared to package anorexia as a “healthy lifestyle”.
Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, described this news as “alarming and distressing”.
Other research has looked into the role of genetics and metabolism on the cause of anorexia, such as a study published in the Nature Genetics journal last year. The study suggested that eating disorders may in fact have a physical, rather than purely psychological, origin.
However Ms Shiers and Ms Bourne feel that every case is different meaning causes should be viewed from a holistic approach.
“It can be genetic, it can be trauma-based, or it could be a combination of different factors,” said Ms Shiers.
“Sometimes it’s very hard to know where they’ve come from.
“You don’t think of it as something with a name, it’s something you do just to cope if you’re going through a difficult time,” she added.
People suffering with an eating disorder are advised to talk to their GP, friends, or family. There is also the Beat charity helpline, which offers support and guidance.