SDLP's Durkan calls for eating disorder centre as children under 10 diagnosed
Children under ten are among a huge hike in the numbers of people being diagnosed with an eating disorder in Northern Ireland in the past five years.
More than 2,000 new patients have been treated for an eating disorder here since 2011 but this is a conservative estimate according to the charity Eating Disorder NI (EDNI).
The figure, released to SDLP Health Spokesman Mark H Durkan MLA, shows an alarming annual increase in the number of people seeking help with an eating disorder - last year alone the number was over 500.
Philip Anderson from EDNI said while these figures are shocking the breakdown could be even more alarming - his organisation has had parents with children under the age of ten seeking help.
The figures provided to Mr Durkan represent only the people who are treated in one of the health trusts and do not take into account the many more who never report their illness to their GP.
He is calling for a dedicated centre to provide in-patient treatment to people in Northern Ireland suffering from an eating disorder who currently have to leave their families for treatment elsewhere in the UK.
Mr Anderson supported Mr Durkan's call for a Northern Ireland based in-patient centre.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Anderson said recognition of men with eating disorders is a relatively new issue.
He explained: "We would estimated that the number of males coming to us would account for around 20% of our clients.
"I developed an eating disorder in the 1980s, at a time when no one believed men could have an eating disorder. I was 16 when I first had an issue with food, but I can't recall having any specific trigger. I was probably anorexic for the first three years but then I developed bulimia, but I was 28 before I got help, simply because no one connected eating disorders to men at the time.
"An eating disorder isn't fixed in a week or two, or even a year or two. It can take six or seven years or more to recover if you are lucky - which I was.
"Thankfully, I don't have an issue with food now at all, but that isn't the case with a lot of people.
"Having a dedicated centre to offer in-patient treatment for eating disorders would be a huge factor in helping people here, instead of having to travel to St George's hospital in London, where most people go to at the minute."
Mr Durkan said that behind the shocking statistics was a person and their family in need of more help.
"A strategy to roll back this sad increase must form part of the Minister's overarching mental health strategy. A specialist unit for more severe cases should be on the table," he said.