If there is a silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud it may be the fact that millions of Americans are seeking help for potentially deadly eating disorders. The pandemic has challenged the estimated 30 million people in the U.S. suffering from this condition, forcing them to reach out for assistance.
According to USA Today, there has been a 40% increase in calls to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline since March 2020. While eating disorders affect people of all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic statuses, experts say individuals of color are less likely to receive help.
Eating disorders include the broad categories of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating but there are grey areas that fit outside these designations, said Chelsea Kronengold, communications manager at NEDA.
Experts say that the symptoms of eating disorders thrive in isolation because sufferers can engage in their behaviors out of public eye. Isolation, along with the pandemic itself, triggers a sense of hopelessness which could exacerbate the feelings of fear and inadequacy in victims of eating disorders, propelling them deeper into their condition.
Social distancing often deprived sufferers from their usual coping activities and outlets such as going to the gym or meeting with friends, according to USA Today.
According to NPR, eating disorders have the second-highest mortality rate of any psychiatrics diagnosis, topped only by opioid use disorder. A survey conducted last summer and published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 62% of Americans suffering from anorexia say their symptoms worsened during the pandemic. Symptoms of the more common binge-eating disorder rose nearly 33%.
To get more information or help on dealing with an eating disorder, contact the NEDA helpline, or text “NEDA” to 741741 to reach a trained volunteer.
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