Spike in eating disorders

High rate of hospitalizations for young people during the pandemic: CIHI

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

Published Thursday May 5, 2022 5:53AM EST

Last update Thursday, May 5, 2022 12:38 PM EST

New data from the Canadian Institute of Health Research reveals that Canadian hospitals have seen a sharp rise in the number of young people hospitalized with eating disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figures released Thursday show girls between the ages of 10 and 17 with eating disorders were hospitalized nearly 60 per cent more after the onset of the pandemic.

The rate for this group increased from 52 hospital admissions per 100,000 people in 2019-20 to 82 hospital admissions per 100,000 in 2020-2021.

Experts say it paints a stark picture of an aspect of mental health for young people across the country, noting that the eating disorder must be so severe that it requires hospital treatment.

“This is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to young adults with significant eating disorders, because there are so many barriers to accessing care,” said Dr. Lina Esserlin, director of psychiatry for the Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders Program at CHEO.

“And a lot of young people will never meet the criteria for hospitalization but … still do fine with their eating disorders.”

The rate of hospitalizations for eating disorders for young people of all races aged 5-24 in Canada was 20 per 100,000 in 2020-21, up from 15 per 100,000 in the two years prior to the onset of the pandemic.

Data were extracted from the Discharge Summary Database and the Ontario Mental Health Reporting System.

Iserlin said she saw the spike unfold in her practice at Children’s Hospital in Ottawa.

“We had to redeploy our staff,” she said. “We had to withdraw staff from other parts of the mental health care programs who usually treat things like depression, anxiety or other mental disorders, and who came to help with our unit.”

It’s difficult to measure the overall prevalence of eating disorders, so looking at hospitalization data is a good starting point for measuring trends, said Tracy Johnson, director of health system analytics at CIHI.

“We know advocates point out that we don’t have enough resources for eating disorders, and this applies to everything from identifying children as early as possible to providing them with appropriate care,” Johnson said.

However, there are also data limitations.

“We don’t know who doesn’t seek to take care of these things,” Johnson said. “You are hospitalized because you are the sickest child.”

However, the increase in hospital visits and admissions for eating disorders did not reflect on other mental health issues.

The number of hospitalizations for anxiety disorders decreased from 39 per 100,000 young people in 2019-2020 to 35 per 100,000 in 2020-2021, while the numbers remained relatively constant for psychotic disorders from 69 per 100,000 to 70 per 100,000.

Meanwhile, emergency department visits for substance-related disorders have declined.

The rate in 2019-2020 was 385 per 100 thousand young people, and in 2020-2021 it was 280 per 100 thousand young people.

“Alcohol overdoses have decreased,” Johnson said. “The kids were home, there were no parties and gatherings, there were no college parties. So all of these things contribute to less hospital visits and (emergency department) visits for substance abuse.”

Johnson said the numbers go against the narrative that the pandemic has been bad for all aspects of mental health.

“The motives of some things are different.”

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on May 5, 2022.

2022-05-05 09:53:30

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