The Toronto Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) saw a 35% increase in eating disorders among youth last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts have warned that Canadian youth are facing unprecedented physical and mental health challenges as a result of lockdowns and other restrictions.
One of these experts is Christina Bartha, executive director of the SickKids brain and mental health program.
“COVID is a great amplifier,” said Bartha. “In pediatrics, the mental health and eating disorder rise in numbers is, to some degree, our pandemic. This has been very significant in terms of the number of kids presenting for care, and being able to attend to that has been really challenging,”
Other hospitals have also seen a spike in such cases. Between 2019-20 and 2020-21, McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton reported a 90% rise in referrals involving suspected eating disorders among kids.
The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa has also faced pressure to increase resources due to eating disorders.
CHEO has admitted at least 25 kids and adolescents with eating disorders since the pandemic began. The hospital has had to add three in-patient beds to accommodate the patients.
“We were having to take resources from other parts of our mental health program to support those young people,” said CHEO vice-president of mental health and addictions Joanne Lowe.
The crisis has prompted the Ontario government to invest $8.1 million until 2022 to help hospitals deal with an increase in eating disorders.
One patient is Hadley Phillipson-Webb, who told the Canadian Press that she began to feel ill last December. She was later diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
“Not being able to see anyone or really kind of do anything just gave me more time to just think about myself,” said Phillipson-Webb.
“As time went on, I was just less and less happy with my body and how I looked. So then I stopped eating.”
Doctors have been warning for some time that Canadian youth are facing a mental health crisis. In April, the Ottawa Community Pediatricians Network warned that physicians were seeing more and more children being admitted for mental health issues.