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Editor's Viewpoint

Eating disorder crisis needs urgent action

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Our story today about people with eating disorders makes troubling reading because we disclose that the number of those diagnosed with such disorders in Northern Ireland has almost doubled in the last seven years

Our story today about people with eating disorders makes troubling reading because we disclose that the number of those diagnosed with such disorders in Northern Ireland has almost doubled in the last seven years

Our story today about people with eating disorders makes troubling reading because we disclose that the number of those diagnosed with such disorders in Northern Ireland has almost doubled in the last seven years

Our story today about people with eating disorders makes troubling reading because we disclose that the number of those diagnosed with such disorders in Northern Ireland has almost doubled in the last seven years.

In 2011-12 a total of 272 people here were diagnosed with eating disorders, but by 2018-19 that figure had jumped dramatically to 518 - a rise of 90%.

Even at that, experts say these represent only the tip of the iceberg. Statistics released to this newspaper by the Department of Health show that of the 272 people diagnosed in 2011-12, only 16 were men, while among the 518 patients diagnosed in 2018-19, just 53 were male.

This shows a clear gender disparity. The figures also show that sufferers are becoming younger. Those between 10-19 when diagnosed increased from 52 in 2011-12 to 81 from 2018-19.

The significant indicator of hospital bed days rose from 1,587 to 2,292 in the same period, while emergency cases increased significantly from 225 seven years ago to 452 last year. However, behind each figure there is a human story, including that of Pat and Paul McLarnon and their daughter Debbie.

Some 20 years ago Pat and Paul awoke when they heard her screaming during the night.

Debbie's parents found her writhing in agony in the bathroom. When they found laxatives in her schoolbag, they questioned Debbie, who admitted eventually she had taken 44.

Today Debbie, at 37, is unrecognisable from the stricken teenager who battled anorexia and bulimia.

However, it was a lone battle for the family, with little or no help, less understanding from the health services, and a complete lack of anyone to whom they could turn for support.

As a result they founded FightED, a charity which provides support, care and understanding for families dealing with the trauma of an eating disorder.

The horrifying figures about the rise in suicides locally has increased - most appropriately - the focus on the underspending of the mental health services here.

However, given the mental health dimension to eating disorders, and the gendered nature of the problem, it is vital that girls and young women are not left behind when the Department of Health is allocating whatever sources become available from the Treasury.

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