Local eating disorder charity saw record number of referrals during pandemic

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By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter

A local eating disorder charity says the number of people needing its support surged during the pandemic.

Between January and March 2021, charity First Steps ED received 476 referrals – marking a 69.5 per cent increase in the number received for the whole of 2019/20.

First Steps offers support for children, young people and adults for conditions including bulimia, anorexia and binge eating in the East Midlands and beyond.

Rose Hibberd, Operations Lead at First Steps ED, said: “Our referrals have doubled this year compared to last year.

“We also had the highest amount of referrals in history at First Steps between January and March 2021.

“The pandemic certainly had an impact by affecting people’s mental health in a negative way. Since we started as a charity in 2004 we’ve seen an increase in service users.”

The youngest person the Derby-based charity has supported was six years old.

It comes as Nottingham University Hospitals figures also show a yearly increase in the number of people treated in hospital for an eating disorder.

A total of 29 people were treated in the nine months to September 2021, compared to 11 patients in the year 2011.

The figures also show that three children under the age of nine have been treated this year and one person between the age of 70 and 80.

The data shows that most people admitted were aged between 10 and 19 years old.

Ms Hibberd said that in Nottingham, the waiting time to be seen by an eating disorder team is around six months.

First Steps supports people during that waiting time and beyond through its counselling service and befriending service.

Ms Hibberd added: “We’ve only got bigger every year. Part of that is awareness and it is possible that eating disorders are more prevalent than they have been in the past.

“A big part of that is due to people coming forward more, including more males.

“We do see young people coming through and more so in the last 10 years.”

Ms Hibberd’s advice for family and friends of anyone struggling was to be a “listening ear” and reach out for help.

First Steps can be contacted at info@firststepsed.co.uk or 01332 367571.

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