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Some warning signs of an eating disorder can include worrying about eating, over-counting calories, and over-controlling what is eaten. (archive photo)

Some Milwaukee health leaders say they are seeing an increase in eating disorders that they link to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Keisha Adams, associate program director for the Adolescent Medicine Fellowship at Wisconsin Children’s Hospital, said there was a backlog of services. New patients may have to wait until September to be seen, she said.

“Things are looking up on the inpatient side, but like most mental health issues, there aren’t enough resources out there,” Adams said.

Rogers Behavioral Health in Oconomowoc is one of the only inpatient eating disorder clinics in the Milwaukee area. (Photo provided by Rogers Behavioral Health)

Across the country, eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa have increased dramatically during the pandemic. Eating disorders became the fifth most commonly diagnosed mental health problem in August 2020, according to a report by nonprofit data analyst FAIR Health. 40% increase in calls in March.

These disorders can be related to an obsession with weight and body image and present in the form of binge eating or purging food after meals.

“This has been a whole new level of demand,” said Dr. Brad Smith, medical director of Eating Disorder Recovery at Rogers Behavioral Health at Oconomowoc. “We have done everything we can to continue to attract people here. “

Medical experts attribute the spike to lockdown and other stresses created by the pandemic, which they say have caused an increase in mental health issues at all levels, including eating disorders.

“A whole new set of stress”

Bridgett Wilder, a registered dietitian and owner of Perseverance Health and Wellness located at Walnut Way’s Innovation and Wellness Commons, said the isolation and lack of activity due to the pandemic likely exacerbated pre-existing feelings of depression. Additionally, not having a routine or structure during the day also made it difficult to establish healthy eating habits, she said.

Bridgett Wilder is a fitness trainer and dietitian at the Walnut Way Wellness Center. She tries to implant a positive body image in the young people she works with. (Photo provided by Bridgett Wilder)

“It’s a whole new set of stress, but we don’t think about how it affects our eating habits,” Wilder said. “Now take a teenager who is still navigating life and now has to do his education online, or he may choose not to enroll in class and his grades are stagnant… that’s another kind of stressor for a teenager. young. “

Rogers Behavioral Health’s Oconomowoc campus is one of the only options in the Milwaukee area for the treatment of eating disorders in hospital patients. Hospitals in the region refer patients who need long-term help to Oconomowoc. Smith said the center was struggling to keep up with demand despite an increase in the number of available beds.

An eating disorder unit at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa closed before the pandemic, but Aurora still offers outpatient services.

Smith urged people to seek help from medical professionals, even if they cannot enter a long-term care facility immediately. The difference could save lives, Smith said, due to the high death rates from eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of all mental illnesses, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This is due to a combination of starvation and metabolic collapse, as well as higher suicide rates in women, especially with the disease.

Dr Brad Smith is Medical Director of Rogers Behavioral Health at Oconomowoc. He urged people with eating disorders to seek short-term help if they cannot get into hospital facilities. (Photo provided by Rogers Behavioral Health)

Adams encouraged people to see their primary care physicians and “build a team” who can help navigate the disorder. This involves addressing as many aspects of the problem as necessary: ​​the medical aspect, the dietetic aspect and the therapeutic aspect, among others.

Smith said most eating disorders can be seen by other people during meals. Some warning signs of an eating disorder can include a concern with eating, excessive calorie counting, and excessive control over what is eaten, Adams said.

Wilder emphasized the importance of listening to young people who may be struggling with an eating disorder.

“There are things that young people can go through that they cannot verbalize, but they can punish themselves or reward themselves with food because they have no outlet,” Wilder said.

Where to find help

If you have an eating disorder, go to any community health center that has a behavioral health division.

This includes Outreach Community Health Centers, Sixth Street Community Health Centers, Progressive Community Health Centers, and Milwaukee Health Services.

REDI Clinic: 2500 N. Mayfair Rd., Sixth Floor (Mayfair Mall). Call 414-727-4455

Hillary Counseling: 1661 N. Water St. Call (414) 333-9969 or visit this web page and complete the form to schedule a free consultation.

Rogers Behavioral Health: Visit this webpage for a free screening.