THE coronavirus pandemic is affecting every area of life in often unexpected ways – and teenagers are among the worst hit.
Enforced isolation, bleak employment prospects, disruption of study programmes, being blamed – sometimes unfairly – for rising infection statistics… our teens have a lot on their plate.
And if there happens to be a pre-existing mental condition, such as an eating disorder, COVID can be a recipe for disaster.
Experts have revealed that the pandemic has triggered a 25% surge in cases of anorexia nervosa in areas such as Catalunya, with similar figures registered throughout Spain.
Psychologists warn that lockdowns and confinements, the inability to maintain regular routines – said to be vital for patients with anorexia or bulimia – and ongoing insecurity regarding the sanitary situation are causing widespread stress and anxiety, which can worsen pre-existing symptoms of eating disorders.
In addition, many patients have seen how the clinics where they received treatment have been transformed into COVID centres, thus interrupting their sessions or switching them to online – which is much less effective in these cases.
A slight silver lining can be found in the fact that, as teenagers have been forced to spend more time at home, their parents and relatives have been more aware of signs and symptoms that had previously escaped them, such as throwing away food or vomiting after meals.
This has enabled the detection of many hidden conditions, although the experts admit that, due to system overload, many patients have taken too long to begin treatment.
Recovery from eating disorders is said to be long and difficult, often with frequent relapses. While private centres recommend long in-house stays, the public health system prefers day care support and for the patient to be surrounded by their family and friends.
Psychologists insist on the importance of a correct education to help prevent the appearance of these conditions among kids and teenagers, including parents not discussing diets, their own – real or perceived – weight problems or criticising anyone’s physical appearance in front of their children.
Instead, open-mindedness and acceptance of one’s own body are important values to share within the family in order to reinforce self-esteem, while medical experts also warn against going on drastic weight-loss diets without proper counselling.
Although both sexes are at risk of developing anorexia or bulimia, statistics show that girls are much more prone to these conditions than boys.