Hope Virgo, a Christian mental health campaigner, has urged Christians to pray for “service provision” as new data reveals a sharp rise in the number of eating disorder cases.
Speaking to Premier, she said she believes it is important to be “praying where there is a need for services and praying for a breakthrough with campaigns” as there is currently a “huge injustice” in terms of access to support and people are therefore unable to reach out for it.
“I campaign through a campaign called Dump the Scales and I pray a lot about real breakthrough with the campaign making sure that the right politicians are coming together, making sure the NHS are talking and actually collaborating to make this change,” she continued.
Data obtained by PA news agency from the NHS digital has found the number of children being admitted to hospital with eating disorders in England has risen by almost a fifth in two years.
Health leaders have suggested eating disorder behaviour has been made worse by the pandemic. Ms Virgo agrees, and told Premier eating disorders flourish when there’s “isolation and uncertainty” with the coronavirus pandemic providing the perfect scenario.
“How an eating disorder works for a lot of people is that it strikes when things feel uncertain. So, it offers people a sense of control through calorie counting, offers people a sense of certainty and it tries to pull people in in that sense.
“As a result of those two big things, it's meant that more and more people are returning or starting to develop those kinds of behaviours as a way of coping,” she said.
The data shows there were 21,794 admissions for eating disorders among all age groups in 2019/20, up 13 per cent versus 2018/19.
For children aged 18 and under, there was a 9 per cent rise in admissions in 2018/19.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has warned parents should be on the lookout for signs of eating disorders in children and young people.
Responding to this, Ms Virgo said that while it is hard to spot if someone is struggling with an eating disorder, it is still vital to be on the lookout for different behaviour and talk about it openly.
“The first thing is just to be aware that eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. So don't wait until you see someone losing lots of weight or someone getting really muscular or someone putting on weight, because by that point they could have had an eating disorder for a number of years.
“The main other signs, are people who may be slightly distracted at mealtimes, people who may be start to withdraw, particularly, around mealtimes.”
For Ms Vigo, it’s important for Christians to be praying not only for people with identified eating disorders but also for boldness to speak about the issue more openly.
“[Pray] that people can have a breakthrough where they have been affected by eating disorders or trauma-related issues that might have developed into an eating disorder. [Pray] that people can really move forward within their own recoveries, but also [have] a way to actually speak up and talk about it.”