Over the past few months, we have seen a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases across our communities. Every region that The Emily Program and Veritas Collaborative serve is currently rated either low or medium risk for COVID-19 by the CDC. We have collectively seen a tremendous diminishment in the numbers of people with COVID, hospitalized with COVID, and dying from COVID.
Having said that, we have now lost almost a million Americans to COVID-19. It is the most profound pandemic of any of our lifetimes. We are so glad to now see fewer people becoming ill or dying from this virus, as well as a rising level of safety in our community. However, two years of this pandemic have had a profound negative impact on people with eating disorders.
A Pandemic-Related Surge in Eating Disorders
The past two years have witnessed a dramatic increase in isolation and limited contact between family and friends, making it even more difficult for individuals to reach out for help for eating disorders and other mental health conditions. These factors—combined with the fact that our society has become so incredibly stressed—have resulted in a profound increase in the number of people seeking treatment for eating disorders. All these factors have also made these illnesses and the symptoms that come with them more severe.
Just as the number of people with eating disorders has increased tremendously during the pandemic, so has the number of other mental health conditions. Many individuals are dealing with so much on top of their eating disorder, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and substance use disorder, all of which have also grown during the pandemic. In addition, many people have experienced the sort of stressful situations that can worsen disordered eating to the point of full-blown eating disorder development. In that same vein, the stress of the pandemic could also contribute to disordered eating developing a more severe eating disorder.
At this point, eating disorder treatment organizations—along with the entire mental healthcare system—are overwhelmed. The number of calls coming into eating disorder centers and the number of people receiving treatment for eating disorders are both at an all-time high. This could be a good sign in part. More people reaching out for help means more people are starting on their road to recovery. It’s possible that this surge also includes many people who would not have sought out care in the past but are doing so now. Nevertheless, it does not diminish the fact that so many people are suffering.
Responding to the Growing Need for Care
Accanto Health and its brands, The Emily Program and Veritas Collaborative, are currently working hard to increase program capacity and support those waiting for care. Our goal is to open more programs and sites and extend ourselves more deeply into the communities we serve. We are passionate about doing this to help the growing number of people experiencing eating disorders whose lives may be at risk because of these illnesses.
Many of our patients are looking for care not only for their eating disorder, but also for multiple other conditions. This need has also only increased during the pandemic. Within the eating disorder world, it is also very important to expand our set of skills and be able to treat people with more than one health condition. Here at Accanto, we recognize the importance of identifying all issues affecting our patients and are dedicated to serving them to the fullest of our ability.
We also need to be aware that while we are helping individuals with their eating disorders, we bear the responsibility to foster equity and inclusivity within our care communities. People have felt motivated to challenge systems, change their lives, and build a better society. We need to be able to support individuals in a way that acknowledges diversity, inclusivity, and other social justice priorities that exist alongside eating disorders.
About the Author
Dr. Mark Warren is the Chief Medical Officer of Accanto Health, the parent company of the newly merged Veritas Collaborative and The Emily Program. Accanto is focused on bringing the most advanced, evidence-based care to clients who are treated in a community of recovery. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School, he completed his residency at Harvard Medical School. He is on Faculty at Case Medical School and teaches at University Hospitals of Cleveland and The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. He is a past chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Case Western University’s Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Dr. Warren is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a Fellow of the Academy of Eating Disorders, where he co-founded the SIG in Professionals and Recovery and the SIG for Males and Eating Disorders. He is a two-time recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and a winner of the Woodruff Award. He has published and spoken extensively on Males and Eating Disorders, Professionals and Recovery, and DBT and FBT in the treatment of eating disorders.
Dr. Warren was a founding member and co-chair of the Academy of Eating Disorders Medical Care Standards Committee and serves on the FEAST Medical Advisory Board and The Visiting Committee of the Case Western Francis Payne Bolton School of Nursing.