The Cascading Impact of COVID-19 on ED Treatment


The pandemic’s trend is unlikely to slow.

Many studies have now documented that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the mental health of adolescents and adults. The pandemic has been linked to increases in anxiety, depression, and eating disorder symptoms. In addition, it appears that ED symptoms from the pandemic often worsen for those who have had eating disorders in the past. These trends have raised concern about rising clinical needs, as well as rising severity of ED symptoms and comorbid psychopathology.

A new study seems to confirm some of these fears. Feldman and colleagues (Int J Eat Disord. 2022.1:6) reviewed data on 71 hospital admissions of children needing medical stabilization for a restrictive eating disorder (31 prior to, and 40 following, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic). Results showed that the rate of admission to the program increased 2.9-fold from pre-pandemic times to during the pandemic itself. The likelihood of co-occurring depression or anxiety in those admitted for treatment roughly doubled after the onset of the pandemic. Finally, it was more common after the onset of the pandemic to require “bridge plans” for interim care between discharge from the hospital and admission to the recommended higher level of care.

These results provide evidence of the increasing burdens being felt in the mental health system generally and in ED treatment system specifically-burdens that seem unlikely to diminish any time soon.

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