Wisconsin is currently recruiting more doctors, dietitians and therapists specially trained to treat eating disorders.
This comes as eating disorders develop during the pandemic. Phone calls to the National Eating Disorders Association have increased 70-80% in recent months.
Rachel Quast has trouble keeping up with the calls she receives from people seeking help. She says the rise only started a month or two after the start of the pandemic.
“I’ve received some of the most heartbreaking calls,” Quast says. “Within a week, two different parents called me about their troubled and suicidal teens.”
Quast is a certified counselor in Milwaukee and a national speaker on eating disorders.
She is the creator of “SHED” which stands for Self-Healing Through Education.
Quast’s own battle with eating disorders began when she was a child. At 14, she weighed 54 pounds.
“They said I didn’t have much time to live,” Quast said. “I believe it because, just from the way my heart was beating and things were failing in my body, I could tell.”
Quast has undergone years of different treatment and some relapses for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.
It wasn’t until she found out that she had found her purpose in helping others and talking about the challenge that she truly found the cure.
“Stories like when I spoke in high school and a counselor later told me that three kids later admitted they were bulimics,” Quast said. “It helped me know that I was touching a chord and helping people recover. This is really what I want for people so bad, complete physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. How can that not fill you up knowing that your pain is now in the service of other people? “
But Quast admits she has never seen the demand for help so high. Neither has the UW Health System.
“We have seen the number of patients with eating disorders almost double between 2019 and 2020,” said Dr. Paula Cody, medical director of adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin. “We have also seen an increase in the number of men admitted to hospital with eating disorders. This increase is likely to be said here. I don’t think it’s fluke, and I don’t think it’s just going to go away once the pandemic is gone. “
Dr Cody says the pandemic has escalated the problem by causing more stress, loss of control and isolation. It has also led to increased use of social media, more photo-bought images, a focus on the billion dollar food industry, and people being forced to look at each other so often on one. screen for virtual meetings and school.
According to the Journal of Eating Disorders, 62% of people with anorexia in the United States experienced worsening symptoms during the pandemic. While 35% of Americans with binge eating disorder – which is much more common – reported an increase in episodes.
All of this is compounded by a dearth of treatment options available here in Wisconsin and across the country.
“It’s hard to find therapists because they’re overbooked,” Dr. Cody said. “The demand far exceeds the supply. Eating disorder treatment facilities also have long waiting lists because it’s something we just can’t keep up with. We are working to increase the number of beds available and are working with insurance companies to help increase their coverage for mental health diagnoses.
“I get a lot of calls from people who just can’t afford treatment, and this is where I see the biggest gap in health care,” Quast said. “If you don’t have insurance or money, where do you go for help?”
And that could have deadly consequences. Dr Cody says eating disorders have one of the highest death rates of any mental health disorder.
Quast and Dr. Cody are among health leaders in Wisconsin fighting for more resources.
They say eating disorders are often misunderstood as a “white woman’s disease”.
This often leads to missing the first red flags when it comes to men and boys, who account for at least 25% of eating disorder cases.
It also leads to some missed warning signs when it comes to people of color.
“What I see is people take care of it once it’s serious,” Quast said. “We should deal with it sooner, or even before it becomes a problem. Let’s try to educate and empower people about body image and healthy habits. “
In what can often seem like a dire situation, they want people with eating disorders and their families to know you can overcome them.
“You are never desperate, you are never finished,” Quast said. “Even if you have suffered from an eating disorder for 50 years, miracles happen. I saw them, I was one.
If you, or someone you know, has an eating disorder, the best place to start is with your primary care provider to put you in touch or refer you for help. If you are expecting a formal treatment program, there are organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association that will put you in touch with a mentor, or someone to talk to by phone, or a support group to meet in person or online.
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