Since the novel coronavirus began its global spread, influenza cases reported to the World Health Organization have dropped to minuscule levels. The reason, epidemiologists think, is that the public health measures taken to keep the coronavirus from spreading also stop the flu. Influenza viruses are transmitted in much the same way as SARS-CoV-2, but they are less effective at jumping from host to host.
As Scientific Americanreported last fall, the drop-off in flu numbers was both swift and universal. Since then, cases have stayed remarkably low. “There’s just no flu circulating,” says Greg Poland, who has studied the disease at the Mayo Clinic for decades. The U.S. saw about 600 deaths from influenza during the 2020–2021 flu season. In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were roughly 22,000 deaths in the prior season and 34,000 two seasons ago.
Because each year’s flu vaccine is based on strains that have been circulating during the past year, it is unclear how next year’s vaccine will fare, should the typical patterns of the disease return. The WHO made its flu strain recommendations for vaccines in late February as usual, but they were based on far fewer cases than in a common year. At the same time, with fewer virus particles circulating in the world, there is less chance of an upcoming mutation, so it is possible the 2021–2022 vaccine will prove extra effective.
Public health experts are grateful for the reprieve. Some are also worried about a lost immune response, however. If influenza subsides for several years, today’s toddlers could miss a chance to have an early-age response imprinted on their immune system. That could be good or bad, depending on what strains circulate during the rest of their life. For now, future flu transmission remains a roll of the dice.
Influenza Cases Worldwide, by Region
The World Health Organization tracks influenza transmission in 18 zones. Three of those regions appear here. Only people who get tested for influenzalike illnesses—typically about 5 percent of individuals who fall ill—are tallied.
Creating the influenza vaccine this year has been more difficult than in the past.
Every year, scientists evaluate the strains of influenza that are circulating around the world, and meet to decide which strains to protect against in that year’s vaccine. They look at the strains that are getting people sick, and use that information to predict which strains are most likely to infect people when flu season sets in.
“We met at the end of February to make those recommendations,” said Dr. Webby, referring to the World Health Organization panel that assesses the flu vaccine. “And it was tricky. The amount of data was orders of magnitude less than it typically is.”
Dr. Olsen, the C.D.C. epidemiologist, pointed out that the vaccine choices are based on more than just existing strains. Scientists also consider other data, including forecasts of “the likelihood of any emerging groups of influenza viruses becoming more prevalent in coming months.”
And, she said, the uncertainty around the return of influenza makes getting vaccinated against the flu more important, not less.
There’s another hard-to-predict factor that could play a significant role when the flu comes back: whether society will carry on behaviors learned in the pandemic that benefit public health. Will mask-wearing become the norm? Will employers give their employees more physical space?
The last time Americans had a chance to make those behaviors part of the culture, Dr. Baker pointed out, they did not.
“The 1918 influenza pandemic should have been something that gave us some sort of societal learning,” said Dr. Baker, but behavior did not change. “So what is the journey you are about to go on from the Covid-19 pandemic, along that axis?” she added. “Will you wear your mask, even if no one else is?”
This holiday season will be a lonely one for many people as social distancing due to COVID-19 continues, and it is important to understand how isolation affects our health. A new study shows a sort of signature in the brains of lonely people that make them distinct in fundamental ways, based on variations in the volume of different brain regions as well as based on how those regions communicate with one another across brain networks.
A team of researchers examined the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, genetics and psychological self-assessments of approximately 40,000 middle-aged and older adults who volunteered to have their information included in the UK Biobank: an open-access database available to health scientists around the world. They then compared the MRI data of participants who reported often feeling lonely with those who did not.
The researchers found several differences in the brains of lonely people. These brain manifestations were centered on what is called the default network: a set of brain regions involved in inner thoughts such as reminiscing, future planning, imagining and thinking about others.
Researchers found the default networks of lonely people were more strongly wired together and surprisingly, their grey matter volume in regions of the default network was greater. Loneliness also correlated with differences in the fornix: a bundle of nerve fibers that carries signals from the hippocampus to the default network. In lonely people, the structure of this fibre tract was better preserved.
We use the default network when remembering the past, envisioning the future or thinking about a hypothetical present. The fact the structure and function of this network is positively associated with loneliness may be because lonely people are more likely to use imagination, memories of the past or hopes for the future to overcome their social isolation.
“In the absence of desired social experiences, lonely individuals may be biased towards internally-directed thoughts such as reminiscing or imagining social experiences. We know these cognitive abilities are mediated by the default network brain regions,” says Nathan Spreng from The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) of McGill University, and the study’s lead author. “So this heightened focus on self-reflection, and possibly imagined social experiences, would naturally engage the memory-based functions of the default network.”
Loneliness is increasingly being recognized as a major health problem, and previous studies have shown older people who experience loneliness have a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Understanding how loneliness manifests itself in the brain could be key to preventing neurological disease and developing better treatments.
“We are just beginning to understand the impact of loneliness on the brain. Expanding our knowledge in this area will help us to better appreciate the urgency of reducing loneliness in today’s society,” says Danilo Bzdok, a researcher at The Neuro and the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, and the study’s senior author.
This study was published in the journal Nature Communications on Dec. 15, 2020. It was partially funded by a grant to Spreng and Bzdok from the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
R. Nathan Spreng, Emile Dimas, Laetitia Mwilambwe-Tshilobo, Alain Dagher, Philipp Koellinger, Gideon Nave, Anthony Ong, Julius M. Kernbach, Thomas V. Wiecki, Tian Ge, Yue Li, Avram J. Holmes, B. T. Thomas Yeo, Gary R. Turner, Robin I. M. Dunbar, Danilo Bzdok. The default network of the human brain is associated with perceived social isolation. Nature Communications, 2020; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-20039-w
McGill University. “Scientists show what loneliness looks like in the brain: Neural ‘signature’ may reflect how we respond to feelings of social isolation.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 December 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/12/201215082059.htm>.
Mar. 12, 2020 — Scientists demonstrated, through brain imaging and psycho-cognitive evaluations conducted over several years on a community-based cohort of elderly people, that certain personality traits protect …
May 9, 2018 — Brain regions that help process what we see may play a key role in mental health. Researchers used brain imaging to identify patterns of brain connectivity — the ability of brain regions to talk to …
Nov. 22, 2017 — Differences in intelligence have so far mostly been attributed to differences in specific brain regions. However, are smart people’s brains also wired differently to those of less intelligent …
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The global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taken a dramatic toll on virtually all aspects of life, from the economy, to employment, relationships, public health, and personal health.
In the United States, more than 200,000 individuals have died of the coronavirus. As of October, hundreds of thousands of Americans are filing unemployment claims each week. For all of us, the pandemic has become a time marked by uncertainty, fear, and grief.
According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 40 percent of US adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use issues.
Although much of the general population has admitted to feeling more anxious and depressed during the pandemic, those with substance use and mental health issues face unique challenges.
What’s important to know during this time is that everyone responds to stressful situations differently. There is no wrong way to feel or to react to the changes you may see around you, or in people you love.
Since March 2020, numerous resource guides and directories have been developed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to fill the gaps the pandemic has created in access to care, social support, and ensuring quality and affordable treatment.
Here you’ll find information on:
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and substance use
List of mental health and addiction resources
Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about telehealth
caring for a loved one who is struggling
Why Are People Struggling More During The Pandemic?
Mental health difficulties that people are experiencing during the pandemic are not something that can be traced back to a single source. For most people, it’s likely a combination of factors.
The ways that people are impacted by sources of coronavirus-related stress can also differ depending on mental health history, the hardship they’ve personally experienced during the pandemic, and other personal risk factors.
Sources of stress related to the coronavirus pandemic might include:
changes in employment
being an essential worker (or worrying about a loved one who is)
being high-risk for COVID-19 complications
substance use/mental health relapse
severed access to medical and behavioral health services
reduced social support
uncertainty of the timeline of the pandemic
returning to school or work (for yourself or loved ones)
increased attention towards germs/spreading disease
There are a whole host of social, economic, and cultural forces that have driven increases in mental health symptoms in the general population and those with pre-existing mental health issues.
In addition to the pandemic, people are also currently grappling with stress associated with racism, racial discrimination, police violence, and the presidential election.
These various sources of stress can pervade our interpersonal lives, our professional lives, and our interactions with our individual communities and the nation at large. We can see these struggles show up in the workplace—physically, or on digital platforms like Zoom—in the home, on the streets, in educational settings, and in online interactions.
You might find yourself and the people around you demonstrating a short temper, isolating from others, lashing out, and acting in other uncharacteristic ways.
Not all of us feel comfortable sharing the ways we’ve been negatively affected by the pandemic. This is true whether this concerns the loss of a loved one to the coronavirus, or how the pandemic has influenced our mental health and coping habits.
What We Know About Mental Health And The Pandemic
Multiple health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), have reported the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the United States and globally.
Effects On Mental Health In The General Population
Many people without pre-existing mental health conditions are reporting feelings of increased stress, anxiety, and depression.
In early October, Dr. Joseph Gorden—the director of the National Institute on Mental Health—told CNN that this increase in mental health symptoms has previously been seen in the aftermath of other crises, such as 9/11 and extreme weather events.
One difference with COVID-19 is that the crisis is ongoing, and extends beyond a singular event. The American Psychiatric Association, which surveys Americans every year, recently released their 2020 findings on the state of mental health in America, which included the following:
Nearly 8 in 10 adults say the coronavirus pandemic has been a significant source of stress in their lives
Two in three adults report feeling increased stress during the pandemic
Nearly one in five adults say their mental health is worse than this time last year
More than 75 percent of adults say the future of the nation is a significant source of stress
Generation Z teenagers (ages 13 to 17) and Generation Z adults (18-23) are experiencing elevated stress and depression that may have long-term consequences on health and well-being
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), which conducted a poll in July, many adults are also reporting increases in alcohol or drug use, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, and worsened chronic health conditions.
Effects On Mental Health In People With Mental Health And Substance Use Disorders
Trauma and stress can be major risk factors for substance use and mental health relapse. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s very reasonable to identify this experience as a form of trauma. Across the world, people are facing immense uncertainty, loss of life, and reduced access to supportive resources.
While many sources of pandemic-related stress might be similar to those of the general population, the impact of this stress can have different implications for people with pre-existing mental health and substance use disorders.
This includes people who have:
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
psychotic disorders (e.g. schizophrenia)
substance use disorders
Compared to the general population, people with mental health and substance disorders might face unique challenges.
These could include difficulties accessing mental health services (including medications), severed access to substance use services and related social services, and enhanced reactions to the lack of social support and isolation generated by the pandemic.
Mental Health And Drug Relapse
The effects of the pandemic may provoke drug or alcohol relapse, which can be troubling both for the individual struggling as well as those around them.
This might increase tension in the household, or provoke significant worry and concern among loved ones who aren’t able to visit their struggling loved one due to safety concerns.
Effects of substance use or mental health relapse might include:
Drug overdoses have also been on the rise, as reported by the American Medical Association (AMA). According to the AMA, more than 40 states nationwide have reported increased drug overdose rates in 2020 compared to 2019.
This is significant, as the United States reached an all-time high in total drug overdose deaths in 2019, after seeing a decline from 2017 to 2018.
As reported by NBC, the month of May was the deadliest month for drug overdoses in five years. And according to national data from August, this year is on its way to reaching an all-time high in drug overdoses, with data already showing an 18 percent increase from this time last year.
During the pandemic, several barriers to treatment services—including harm reduction services, such as safe needle exchanges—have emerged, blocking pathways towards seeking help.
People with active substance use issues may have also been cut off from their usual dealers. This might sound positive on the surface. However, this could very well lead to the sort of desperation that might result in seeking drugs from more dangerous sources, where drugs might be laced with other substances or otherwise put the drug user in danger.
Mental Health And Addiction Resources During COVID-19
As millions of people across the United States face greater stress and depression during the pandemic, many existing organizations—national, state, and local—have created and shared resources for mental health and substance use prevention.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of organizations that provide resources for people with mental health and substance use disorders, and their loved ones:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created an exhaustive resource page for mental health during COVID-19.
The agency has compiled a comprehensive list of national helplines, and resources specific to families and children, teens, healthcare workers and first responders, and people in the high risk category for COVID complications.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is a government-run organization and resource for individuals, families, and communities impacted by substance abuse. They have compiled a list of COVID-19 resources and resources specific to helping individuals with substance use disorders.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is the nation’s leading grassroots advocacy organization for individuals and families affected by mental illness. They’ve released an extensive resource guide, featuring information on how to cope with stress, how to seek treatment, and seeking help for loved ones who are incarcerated.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a government-run agency that has released a COVID-19 guide for drug abuse treatment providers, individuals, and families affected by substance use and mental health issues.
Among other things, this guide includes guidance on safely administering naloxone for opioid overdose, virtual recovery resources, and information on telehealth services.
Mental Health America
Mental Health America is a leading national nonprofit organization that has created a COVID-19 specific resource page for individuals and their loved ones affected by mental illness.
This resource page offers general information about mental health and the coronavirus, as well as coping tools, screening tools, and informational sessions on mental health and COVID-19. MHA’s guide also offers resources specific to certain populations.
This includes mental health resources for:
Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)
Psychology Today has an online directory of clinical professionals, psychiatrists, and treatment centers across the United States. Through this website, individuals can search for nearby treatment centers and providers.
Filters for accepted insurance, types of treatment, and preferred treatment modality are also available. This includes specific search functions for finding teletherapy services.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) has moved their meetings online (also accessible by phone) to support current and former addicts across the country. Information about their meetings, how to get connected, and related resources are available here.
Cocaine Anonymous, like NA, is also offering free services for individuals impacted by cocaine use. This includes email support and voice-only online meetings.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
The NIAAA has created a resource page specifically for people navigating the challenges of COVID-19 with a current or previous history of alcohol abuse and addiction. This includes information on virtual support meetings, frequently asked questions about alcohol and the coronavirus, and updates on alcohol sales.
National Support Hotlines For Mental Health, Abuse, And Addiction
Many national and local hotlines exist in the United States to provide support and treatment for individuals in crisis.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, several leading behavioral health organizations have reported receiving enormous spikes in calls from individuals struggling with mental health and substance use issues. If you need immediate help for mental health or substance use-related struggles, you’re not alone.
For immediate support, consider these hotlines:
National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline: 1-800-931-2237
National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: 1-800-950-6264
Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
Veterans Crisis Line (National): 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text: 8388255
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
Teen Line: 1-800-852-8336 or text “TEEN” to 839863
To find local treatment centers, treatment providers, and Telehealth services:
SAMHSA National Hotline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889
You can also check your state and county health departments to find localized resources and treatment. Many state and local health departments have existing substance abuse prevention and behavioral health departments.
Local health departments may have additional information on how to report an overdose, where to find safe sharps disposal sites near you, and how to access social support services during COVID-19.
Are Mental Health And Substance Abuse Treatment Centers Open?
Many substance abuse and mental health treatment centers across the United States have remained open at full or partial operation during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure continued care during these difficult times. The types of services currently offered may vary according to the center.
Early on in the pandemic, organizations like the CDC and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released recommendations for how to safely treat patients in psychiatric settings during this time.
These recommendations pertain to certain safety protocols as well as guidelines for maintaining HIPAA privacy standards while delivering telehealth services.
COVID-19 And TeleHealth Services
Since March, many mental health and substance abuse treatment providers have shifted their services online or by phone to prevent COVID-19 exposure.
Telehealth services have become one solution to the safety concerns of in-person interactions between providers and patients. Telehealth refers to digital health services that are conducted by phone, text message, live chat, or video.
Telehealth services may include:
mental health and substance abuse counseling
virtual support groups
low-risk urgent care
physical therapy and occupational therapy
case management and care planning
How TeleHealth Works
The experience of telehealth services can look different depending on the type of service and the provider. Telehealth services can be delivered in real-time by treatment providers, or be recorded, stored, and later shared with patients.
For individuals with mental health and substance use issues, common telehealth services include: counseling, virtual support groups, and other clinical services. These services are offered by both individual treatment providers—such as a counselor—and some rehab centers.
Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) have also moved online in some communities, and on a national and regional level. You can learn more about AA’s online options for United States residents here.
Who Can Benefit From Telehealth?
Many of the same benefits that can be received through in-person services can also be received through telehealth. As reported by ABC News, telehealth may be most beneficial for people who are already engaged in care, says Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, a principal research scientist at the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.
Younger people—including children, teens, and young adults—may also be more comfortable using digital communication platforms for telehealth. Generally, younger generations are more technologically savvy and are used to communicating with friends and others through digital communication.
Telehealth may also be beneficial for:
those in acute crisis
people who have relapsed
people who require regular monitoring for mental or physical health conditions
People who are seeking treatment for the first time, or are beginning treatment with a new provider, may struggle more with telehealth.
This doesn’t mean that these first-time patients can’t benefit from telehealth. But it can be more difficult for new providers to assess patients over digital platforms and get an accurate representation of the state of a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health.
Does Insurance Cover Tele-Health?
Insurers vary in their telehealth coverage policies. Where you live in the United States may also affect your coverage and telehealth availability, depending on state laws.
Some private insurers and military insurers like Tricare have moved to cover some or all telehealth services the same as they would in-person services. Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) also covers certain telehealth services.
Medicare Advantage plans offer certain telehealth benefits in addition to those offered under original Medicare and are moving to expand.
To learn more about whether your insurance plan covers telehealth services, contact your insurance company or healthcare provider for up-to-date information.
Limitations And Challenges With Telehealth
Telehealth services have become a critical element of many people’s treatment and recovery plans. The use of these services, however, and gaining access to them has not come without its challenges.
Challenges with telehealth services might include:
Cost: Not all insurance providers have moved to cover telehealth services the same as in-person. This means that many people who were previously able to receive coverage for certain services cannot receive the same coverage for services conducted digitally.
Learning curve: Not everyone is technologically savvy or comfortable receiving health services virtually. This has made it more difficult for some people to access treatment services during COVID-19.
Privacy concerns: Some people have concerns about talking about sensitive topics on certain digital platforms. This has deterred some people from accessing health services, and has complicated the process of delivering these services for providers.
Lacking Access to Computer/Wi-Fi: Lacking consistent or stable access to the internet has been a common barrier to care for people with mental health and substance use issues. This is especially true for low-income and homeless populations in need.
Federal health agencies, treatment providers, and insurance companies are continuing to work on addressing some primary concerns of telehealth moving forward. Legislators are also working to remove barriers to telehealth services imposed by state laws and some insurance policies.
If you have questions about using telehealth with an existing provider, you may ask them directly to learn more about how to address applicable limitations.
Caring For A Loved One Who’s Struggling
Watching someone you care about struggle with mental health or substance abuse can be very stressful. With the pandemic making in-person interaction and check-ins more difficult, this can exacerbate the concerns of parents, siblings, children of addicts, friends, and romantic partners.
Taking care of yourself is the most important consideration if you are a caregiver. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you may very well struggle to care for someone else. Neglecting your own needs can also create additional stress and may lead you to become resentful and depressed about your current position.
Several of the organizations shared above offer resources specific to caregivers and parents. If you’re the loved one of someone who is experiencing a mental health-related crisis, your health and well-being matter, too. You deserve the same care and level of compassion you would show your loved one.
For more information about mental health and COVID-19, please check the websites of the CDC, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and local treatment resources for ongoing updates.
In July of 2020, a new study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) confirmed what many already knew: Covid-19 has contributed to a mental and behavioral health crisis. With one in four parents reporting worsening mental health, and one in seven reporting an increase in behavioral challenges for their children, this is not an isolated problem.
Families everywhere are struggling right now.
But while the study focused on families with young children, in particular, additional research has pointed to the vulnerabilities adolescents are facing right now. To include an increase in post-traumatic stress, depressive and anxiety disorders.
All of which can also be associated with an increase in eating disorder behaviors.
The Mental Health Impact on Adolescents
Hina J. Talib, MD, is a board-certified adolescent medicine specialist known for her popular Instagram page, TeenHealthDoc. She says that one of the things she has noticed since the pandemic began is teenagers experiencing a flare in previously identified mental health conditions as well as the presentation of new mental health conditions.
“In teen health, we are calling this the second-wave of the Covid-19 crisis, and it has already arrived,” Talib recently told Forbes.
She said there are a variety of circumstances contributing to this, to include the loneliness and isolation teenagers are reporting as a result of physical distancing and stay-at-home measures.
“During this time of back-to-school, anticipatory anxiety is running high for students, teachers and families. Teens, especially pre-teens, absorb this stress.”
The Risks Teenagers Face
While we don’t yet have any data connecting an increase in eating disorders to Covid-19, experts believe there is reason to be concerned.
“Eating disorders can be triggered by an attempt to gain control,” Anna M. Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, explained. Lutz is a certified eating disorder registered dietician who co-owns a private practice in Raleigh, NC.
“Right now, all of us, but especially children, have very little control in what we can do,” Lutz said. “Sports seasons, academics as we know them, spring break trips, summer camps and important time with friends have all been canceled—all things that are very important in the lives of teens.”
She said that focusing on weight, exercise and what one allows themselves to eat can be a way of gaining control, particularly in situations where an individual may otherwise feel out of control.
As is the case for so many in the face of our current pandemic.
“Also, there has been a lot of media focus on the potential for weight gain during the Covid–19 pandemic,” Lutz explained. “This message has been directed towards children and can trigger a teen being over-controlled or restrictive with their food.”
While unhealthy, Lutz said that eating disorder behaviors can be coping tools in times of trauma and stress.
“Many people with eating disorders have a history of trauma and the current pandemic situation can trigger this trauma. Isolation, food insecurity (real or perceived), increased time with a family member who may be abusive, grief for what is being lost/missed, and fear about getting sick or your family not having enough money can all trigger an increase in eating disorder symptoms.”
Monitoring Your Teen
All families should be aware of the increased potential for mental health struggles right now, keeping an eye on their young children and teens especially. But for parents concerned about potential eating disorder behavior, Lutz said the following can be signs to look out for:
· Eating in secret
· Suddenly eating differently from the rest of the family
· Becoming extremely focused on exercise
· Refusing to take time off exercising, even when injured or sick
· Leaving large amounts of food uneaten
· Losing weight.
“These are all reasons to be concerned,” Lutz explained. “Children are supposed to be gaining weight and weight loss in children and teens needs to be further assessed.”
Talib said some things your child may be communicating can be indications of a problem as well.
You might hear a teen (or, as Talib thinks of it, the eating disorder itself) say things like:
· “I am so fat.”
· “If I gain weight I will be disgusting.”
· ”My stomach is huge.”
· “I will do an extra 200 crunches tonight.”
· “I can say no to unhealthy food even though you can’t.”
All of these should be red flags to parents right now, and anytime really.
Addressing Concerning Behaviors
If you are worried your teenager may be exhibiting eating disorder behaviors, Lutz suggested talking to them first.
“Outside of a meal time or a time when food is around, explain to them what you have been noticing and why you are concerned.”
It’s important to give adolescents a chance to reflect on their behaviors and open up about what they may be going through in a non-judgmental way. Simply let your child know you are concerned and give them a chance to respond.
Keep in mind, plenty of teenagers will try to hide their eating disorder, even when confronted. So don’t necessarily take “nothing’s wrong” as an answer. Pay attention to your child’s body language, reaction, and your own gut feeling and go from there.
“Eating disorders are great at hiding,” Talib said. “If you suspect an eating disorder or disordered eating from anxiety or depression, it is possible it has already been present for some time and it is helpful to find an experienced care team as soon as possible.”
Now is not the time to wait, she explained. “I see so many families who have lost time due to delays in access.”
But she also wants parents to ensure they are getting their children the right kind of help. Which is why she believes they should be empowered to ask providers the following questions:
· “How many eating disorder cases do you manage here at this practice?”
· “How confident are you in your diagnosis?”
· “Do you have a network of therapists, psychiatrists and dieticians that you refer to and how is your family feedback on these referrals?”
· “If our teen needs more care than we can provide at home, what are you usual next steps in this city?”
“Do not shy away from asking where the nearest specialty care center is and for your doctor to help get you there,” Talib said. “It is not uncommon to have to travel a bit to see an eating disorder team with expertise in adolescents. However the Covid–19 pandemic opening the gates of tele-health has helped this.”
Talib said that parents who are concerned should start by having a conversation with their child’s pediatrician. “Even better, find an adolescent medicine specialist or physician team that is experienced with adolescent eating disorders.”
While Talib said it is always best to start with an evaluation by a professional, particularly because each situation is unique and may require tailored advice and treatment, the following resources can be helpful for families trying to better understand what they are dealing with:
If you’re worried about your child, it’s important to know there is help available. But ignoring eating disorder behavior does not make it go away. Now is the time to act. So if you’re concerned, pick up the phone and call your child’s pediatrician today.
It’s the first step to ensuring your teen will be able to have a healthy tomorrow. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.
I’ve been working as a full-time parenting and health writer for over seven years. As a single mom by choice with a chronic health condition, parenting a child with a chronic health condition, I am passionate about ensuring all families have the health coverage they need.