Warning of surge in eating disorders after students finish exams
Health watchdogs have identified the long school summer holidays as a period when teenagers are most at risk of developing eating disorders.
As tens of thousands of Junior and Leaving Cert students look forward to the end of their exams next week, eating disorder support groups said they were anticipating a surge in calls from both sufferers and concerned parents in the coming weeks.
Bodywhys, the national voluntary organisation supporting people affected by eating disorders, said the post-exam months of July and August were when consumption-related illnesses like anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating were likely to rise.
Experts at the group also warned that youngsters already affected by eating disorders were more likely to find problems relating to their condition intensifying once they have sat their last paper.
Bodywhys training and development manager Harriet Parsons said: "During the exam period, it's much less of a problem for those with eating disorders, because they are focused and have a routine and goal. It's after the exams that the real problems start to occur, because there's much less routine and structure.
"Someone who suffers with an eating disorder or who is vulnerable responds well to a structured routine. But the sudden change from this and the release of pressure make it much harder for young people with eating disorders to cope.
"It's for the same reasons that we notice that students in transition year, which again is a less structured period and more free, are more vulnerable to eating disorders too."
Ms Parsons said the bulk of eating-related illnesses fell into the categories of anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating, while the numbers suffering from orthorexia - an obsession with healthy eating - also appear to be on the rise.
However, despite the general perception among the Irish public that eating disorders are unique to teenagers, Ms Parsons insisted that people of every age could be affected.
According to Bodywhys' most recently published figures, the majority of callers to its helpline concerned a sufferer aged 25-35, while in 2015 there was a 9pc increase in people aged 36-55, and an 8pc increase in those aged over 56.
However, the centre is increasingly treating children in their pre and early teens, with a small number of youngsters under 10 also being referred to the group for help.
Although just one in 10 people who seek help at Bodywhys are male, Ms Parsons said she believed the continued stigma surrounding eating disorders among men could be preventing many more from confronting their problems.
If you have been affected by this article, visit bodywhys.ie , or call the helpline on 1890 200 444.