Against a backdrop of dramatically increased eating disorder referral rates across the UK during lockdown, Suffolk-based organisation Wednesday’s Child has been at the frontline of supporting families, schools and employers throughout the county. Founder, Debbie Watson, explains more.
Pre-pandemic, and still a relatively new not-for-profit eating disorder organisation, Wednesday’s Child had just commenced working with a handful of schools, and for a small number of Suffolk residents desperate to overcome their illness.
Roll the clock forward 12 months, and this ambitious organisation has become not only nationally, but globally, applauded for its place in helping sufferers and carers to navigate eating disorder recovery.
A growing team of specialists is delivering 1-2-1 psychological therapy, family-focused therapy, art psychotherapy, eating-based occupational therapy techniques, healthcare training, peer mentoring, e-learning, employer coaching – and all this alongside a continually expanding befriender programme.
It’s a vast offering … but much needed.
“Sadly, while we always knew eating disorders affected a lot of people – and many more so than officially diagnosed – we’ve absolutely seen the rates of referral soar since the first lockdown,” says Debbie.
“The pandemic has affected those who already suffered, in a number of ways.
“Isolation, loss of routine, removal from usual support systems, lack of access to statutory care provision, change in opportunities to exercise or shop for food – all of these had a significant impact.
“And in addition to this, we’ve had a whole year of people coming forward for the first time, and desperate to get help.
“Every week we’ve taken the calls and emails of heartbroken parents or grandparents across Suffolk who are frantic with worry and don’t know where to start in supporting a child whose eating behaviours now seem to be out of control and reaching crisis point.”
Sadly, eating disorders remain within a subset of mental health issues which seem to still carry such stigma and ‘shame’.
Many sufferers wait for years before being brave enough to talk of their struggles with the likes of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder.
They, and indeed parents and other carers, often also feel an unnecessary sense of blame, or that perhaps this is something which might be perceived as ‘deliberate’, or easily resolved.
“Unfortunately, it’s true to say that those with poor knowledge of eating disorders might not see them as the severe brain illness that they truly are,” adds Debbie.
“A person without empathy and insight might lack the ability to empathise and believe that the child or young adult could be ‘made to get better’ simply by being force-fed.
“In fact, eating disorders are deeply complex and actually have the highest mortality rate of any mental health illness – through such things as suicide or organ failure.”
Wednesday’s Child now has a vast library of e-learning resources, delivers online support groups for both parents and sufferers, and is regularly staging webinars for corporates, healthcare professionals or school leaders wanting to understand the illness better.
The organisation relies on donations and funding in order to sustain its support across the county.