For 11-year-old “Claire,” throwing away her lunch at school and eating smaller portions at home was part of an attempt to cope with the heightened anxiety and uncertainty she felt during the pandemic. On top of the fear of contracting COVID-19 and the constantly changing pandemic restrictions, Claire experienced the added stress of a family move during the pandemic.
Her family left the city for a small town where they didn’t know anyone. This meant starting a new school, meeting new children and teachers, and living in a strange place – away from the comfort and familiarity of her previous home and her routine as a competitive gymnast.
Eating disorders were considered prevalent for children and youth prior to the pandemic, with many young people who are never diagnosed and suffer with great distress. However, the profound impact of the pandemic and the disruption and isolation that accompanied it has contributed to an unprecedented rise in children and teens with mental health conditions including eating disorders. Since the beginning of the pandemic, NYGH alone as experienced a 40% rise in the number of young patients requiring admission to hospital, due to the severity of their eating disorder. There has also been a 35% increase in the number of days our inpatient beds have been occupied by these patients.
“During the pandemic, there has been an alarming rise in the need for pediatric mental health services including eating disorders,” says Karyn Popovich, President and CEO of North York General Hospital (NYGH) “Young people and their families are facing long waiting lists with many travelling far from home in search of specialized care for eating disorders.”
North York General Hospital is one of a few hospitals in the province with a dedicated program to treat children and teens with serious eating disorders. Currently, 50% of patients referred to the hospital’s Pediatric Eating Disorders Program are from outside of the hospital’s catchment area.
In response to the rising mental health crisis, the provincial government invested over $905,000 for NYGH to provide inpatient care for 100 young people aged 12 to 18 years every year, and to expand access and reduce wait times for NYGH’s Outpatient Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders program.
“Eating disorders are very serious conditions and need to be recognized and treated early to prevent medical complications,” says Dr. Ronik Kanani, Chief of Pediatrics and Co-Medical Director of Maternal, Newborn and Pediatric Care Program at NYGH “This expanded program is allowing us to reduce wait times and treat more children and adolescents who need our help.”
"To support the expansion of inpatient and outpatient services, we have hired additional nurses and other mental health clinicians, specialized dietitians, children and youth counsellors, and others,” adds Sheri Ferkl, Program Director for Maternal, Newborn, Paediatrics and Clinical Genetics Programs at North York General Hospital “We are committed to supporting patients and their families during every step of their treatment and care.”