THE number of times a charity has been contacted about young people in Scotland with suspected eating disorders has increased tenfold in the last four years.

Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, says the number of conversations it has had involving youngsters aged 17 or under believed to have a disorder rose from 17 in 2019/20 to 195 in 2022/23.

Kirsty Pavey, Beat’s national lead for Scotland, described the increase as “extremely worrying” and went on to urge anyone concerned about themselves or another young person to get in touch.

Beat provides safe spaces for people to share their concerns about their eating via online support groups, web chats and helpline calls. It also supports families who care for loved ones with a disorder.

In addition, the charity runs a free online platform for school professionals called Spot (School Professionals Online Training), which gives them the tools they need to spot the early warning signs of an eating disorder, speak to students and families about their concerns, and direct them towards support.

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Pavey said: “The pandemic was an awfully stressful time, with many young people experiencing unexpected changes in routine, worrying about the health of loved ones and being isolated away from friends.

“While NHS staff are doing all they can to help every patient, demand for eating disorder support remains high, and at Beat we’re continuing to support people of all ages across the country.

“If anybody is worried about a loved one or a student, please reach out to us and to their GP or family as soon as possible, as the sooner somebody accesses help, the better their chances of making a full recovery.”

Lainey, a mother living in rural Angus who supported her daughter during her recovery from anorexia, spoke of her worries when her daughter was diagnosed and how Beat assisted her recovery.

“I joined several Beat online support groups which helped me and my family to navigate a serious and frightening journey with an eating disorder, to accept the twists and turns, and to see a way forward,” she said.

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“I was able to share my story confidentially without any judgement or pressure. Beat also gave me the confidence and language to address issues and put in place the wider support needed for her ultimate recovery.”

Kerry Coull, a primary school teacher in Scotland, said it seemed to her that more pupils aged over 10 have issues with body image now and are being referred to specialists for eating disorders.

“It’s essential that school staff know how to spot an eating disorder as the faster a young person can receive support, the better outcome they will have,” she said.

“Staff are with children for a large part of the day, and we are there to support children in a holistic way, ensuring that they are physically and emotionally in a place to learn.

“Beat’s Spot training is an excellent resource – I like that you can ask an eating disorder expert questions and access tutorials in your own time.”

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Dr Kandarp Joshi, vice-chair of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “We must raise awareness and signpost young people and carers in the right direction at an early stage.

“It’s great that Beat is helping to educate and support families, staff, carers, medical students and nurses.

“The college supports investment into the third sector alongside investment in specialist mental health services and it’s important to ensure our staff have the best skills available to them when treating those with eating disorders.

“We’re calling on the Scottish Government to deliver on its promise to dedicate 1% of what is spent on health to support our children and young people through CAMHS by 2026, as well as one tenth of total health budget to be spent on mental health.”