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Eating disorders triple due to COVID-19 in Australia according to Butterfly Foundation

Eating disorders across Australia have soared as sufferers deal with social isolation and other negative impacts of lockdown.

Australians have struggled with extra stress and pressure – both mental and physical – of eating disorders due to the effects of COVID-19 and lockdown.

The Butterfly Foundation, a national support system for Australians suffering from eating disorders and body image issues, revealed there has been a sharp increase in people needing help.

In the peak of the pandemic from January to June, the Foundation itself experienced a spike of more than 25 per cent nationally, compared to the six months prior. 

Australians have struggled with extra stress and pressure - both mental and physical - of eating disorders due to the effects of COVID-19 and lockdown (stock)

Australians have struggled with extra stress and pressure – both mental and physical – of eating disorders due to the effects of COVID-19 and lockdown (stock)

Manager of Butterfly Foundation's National Helpline Juliette Thomson (pictured) said the added stress from restrictions and lockdown has seen an increase in people seeking help

Manager of Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline Juliette Thomson (pictured) said the added stress from restrictions and lockdown has seen an increase in people seeking help

‘The stress of rapidly adapting to a new way of life has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking help via the Butterfly National Helpline,’ psychologist and Manager of Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline Juliette Thomson said.

‘A disruption to food shopping, change in exercise routines, increased exposure to food as we spend more time at home and the inability to receive face-to-face support are just a few of the stressors that we have been hearing since the beginning of the pandemic.’ 

Support contacts 

Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or [email protected] 

Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23 

For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14 

Melburnians under strict Stage Four restrictions and curfew have been the  most vulnerable.  

Ms Thomson said there has been a 30 per cent increase in calls from Melburnians who will endure a further two weeks of Stage Four restrictions, and no guarantee it will be lifted in full even by year’s end.

‘The helpline is certainly seeing an increased demand from Victorians,’ she said. 

‘We’re also hearing that due to isolation and tighter restrictions people are finding it harder to access treatment and care.’ 

Ms Thomson said additional funding was desperately being sought.

‘More support is needed for those either not yet unwell enough to attend, or coming out of, a residential facility,’ she explained. 

‘The introduction of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item numbers for eating disorders (the only specific mental illness to have its own item numbers) has been a significant support to those with eating disorders.

‘However only those with severe and complex presentations are eligible, leaving a large cohort of Australians still unable to access the support they need.’ 

The Butterfly Foundation has experienced a jump in almost 30 per cent in calls from Melburnians under strict Stage Four restrictions and curfew (stock)

The Butterfly Foundation has experienced a jump in almost 30 per cent in calls from Melburnians under strict Stage Four restrictions and curfew (stock)

Georgina Taskunas (pictured), eating disorders coordinator for the Butterfly Foundation in Hobart, said it has been extremely difficult due to the restrictions on their everyday activities

Georgina Taskunas (pictured), eating disorders coordinator for the Butterfly Foundation in Hobart, said it has been extremely difficult due to the restrictions on their everyday activities

In Tasmania, the Foundation has recorded triple the amount of calls they had prior to the pandemic and the lockdowns.

Georgina Taskunas, eating disorders coordinator for the Butterfly Foundation in Hobart, said callers were finding it very difficult to cope with the circumstances.

‘People being at home unable to visit their support face to face, not being able to see friends and family, their psychiatrists, dietitians, psychologists face to face, has really affected people’s recovery,’ she told ABC

‘Gyms closing, supermarkets not having familiar brands, it’s all caused extra stress.’  

A survey conducted by InsideOut of 2,000 Tasmanians has found that eating disorders increased during COVID-19. 

‘In almost every marker of severity of an eating disorder we’ve seen a majority of people reporting that the pandemic has had a negative impact,’ InsideOut director Dr Sarah Maguire said. 

She stressed that more services were required in Tasmania as the nation continues to battle through COVID-19. 

Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact: 

  • Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or [email protected] 
  • Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23 
  • For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14 

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