There has been an increase in people in Northern Ireland seeking support for teenagers with an eating disorder, according to a leading charity.
Figures from the eating disorder charity, Beat, reveal they have had more than 13 times the number of contacts about young people aged 11 to 17-years-old during the last four years.
Between April 2019 and March 2020, Beat received just three contacts from or about young people, but this increased to 44 between April 2022 and March this year.
The charity says that the figures show there are many families caring for a loved one, who need support to guide them towards recovery, but also to support their own mental health.
Beat has provided almost 2,000 support sessions to people of all ages between April 2022 to March 2023, which is over three times more than before the pandemic.
The charity said it expects that "demand for eating disorder support will increase this festive season".
To help carers, Beat has opened spaces for its free 'Coping with Celebrations' training course, where families can receive guidance and get support for their own mental health.
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The course includes a Zoom session led by a trained eating disorder clinician, to enable carers to share their worries with other families and access advice.
There is also a chance to hear from a Beat volunteer who has recovered from an eating disorder or has supported a loved one. An e-learning module to help carers plan for the festive season while also looking after their own mental health is also provided.
A mother from Belfast, who helped her daughter recover from an eating disorder, has spoke about the importance of seeking help.
"Caring for someone in your family with an eating disorder is like having the worst experience imaginable day in and day out," she said.
"And yet no one ever asks how your child is, how your other kids are or how you are.
"You walk the path completely alone - except for Beat.
"They have support groups with other carers in your position, they run courses to help you to understand how to get through, and they have online chat services when you can’t see a future without an eating disorder destroying your child, your family, your life.
"Having an eating disorder is a very lonely, isolating and painful experience for everyone involved. Beat helped me see that we could get through the darkness and that a life without this illness would be possible."
On our blog today our supporter Hannah discusses finding peace with anorexia, recovery and how the Beat helpline helped her and her family— BeatED_NI (@BeatED_NI) November 30, 2023
Read her story here https://t.co/hr2ImlbEPB pic.twitter.com/2UJpDsChc0
Nicola Armstrong from Beat said: "This time of year can be very difficult for carers who are supporting a loved one with an eating disorder.
"There’s a huge focus on food and socialising with others, and we know that many people with eating disorders and their families feel incredibly stressed and isolated by the change in routine.
"We often speak to families who feel overwhelmed and in need of a safe space to talk about their worries.
"Our Coping with Celebrations programme helps carers across Northern Ireland to look after their own mental health, support their loved one and connect with others in similar positions.
"Carers can’t pour from an empty cup and we’d urge families to get in touch with us if they’re struggling."
Professor Siobhan O'Neill, Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland said: "I’m very grateful to Beat for all the work they do to help people with eating disorders and their families.
"The festive season can be particularly difficult, and I would encourage anyone who is struggling, including carers, to connect with Beat for support.
"I know that some people are having difficulty accessing appropriate eating disorder services and treatments in Northern Ireland, so I very much welcome the resources available from Beat.
"I would encourage anyone struggling during the festive period to please reach out for support."
To contact Beat's NI helpline, please call 0808 801 0432 or via NIhelp@beateatingdisorders.org.uk