Experts say they’re struggling to keep up with a pandemic-induced surge in eating disorders, which feed on secrecy and isolation.
“It keeps us up at night sometimes, knowing that we are struggling to try and meet the need,” said Dr. Ayisha Kurji, a pediatrician at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon.
A concerning number of youth are getting sick, Kurji said, with up to six patients staying at the children’s hospital and Dubé Centre for Mental Health for months at a time. Inpatient and outpatient referrals have almost doubled during the pandemic, she said.
“We try to do our very, very best to make sure that everyone is seen in as timely of a fashion as we can,” she said. “But our resources are limited.”
The faster people are connected to treatment, the more likely they are to have positive long-term health outcomes, she said.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said the pandemic has put stress on several health care services, including those for eating disorders.
“We continue to do our best to balance these necessary health care services with the response and pressures related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the SHA said in an emailed statement.
Patients are treated by a team of doctors, mental health professionals and dieticians, the SHA said. There’s only one registered dietician to support the adult and youth patients at the Dubé Centre, along with kids with eating disorders at the children’s hospital, Kurji said.
“There’s going to be potential gaps in care when that person is unavailable,” she said.
“Everyone’s working really hard to do their very best to support the kids that are struggling with the limited resources that we have.”
Kurji said she wants the province to beef up current resources for eating disorders, including staffing.
She also wants Saskatchewan to have a daytime treatment program, so medically stable clients can get support during the day but sleep in their own homes. The program would provide targeted care to people with eating disorders, while freeing up beds at the children’s hospital and Dubé Centre, she said.
Staff at the BridgePoint Center for Eating Disorders in Milden, Sask., say they’ve seen a sharp increase in people looking for help, particularly youth.
Lauralyn Blackburn, clinical program director for the provincially funded residential program, said resources are lacking across the country.
She wants the province to offer more training opportunities for professionals hoping to specialize in eating disorders.
“We need more professionals that feel competent and confident when they’re working with someone that’s struggling with disordered eating,” Blackburn said.
BridgePoint has gone virtual during the pandemic, expanding access beyond it’s eight patient beds. Blackburn said she hopes the center receives funding to continue online services when the pandemic ends.
“My dream would be that we didn’t have to compete [for funding] — that people would be a priority; our wellness would be a priority and that we would work together to make it happen,” Blackburn said.
If you or someone you know are struggling with disordered eating, contact the BridgePoint Center for Eating Disorders for help.