Victoria's Mammoth Lockdown Created The Perfect Conditions For Eating Disorders To Thrive

Victoria’s drawn-out lockdown orders may have left an eating disorder crisis in its wake.

Victoria's extended lockdown is now done and dusted, and, by all accounts, it's been very successful. As of this morning, VIC has recorded 45 straight days of no community transmission of COVID-19; with our state-led response even praised by Dr Anthony Fauci, the United States' leading infectious disease expert.

Epidemiological wins aside, though, what did those four months really do to us? Particularly young people? As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, one of the more tragic effects of 112 days of stay-at-home orders was a surge of eating disorders affecting teenagers and young adults, with a demand for treatment outweighing the support services available.

Christine Morgan, the PM's National Suicide Prevention Adviser, told the publication the number of people presenting to hospitals and other services with eating disorders has increased between 25 and 50 percent. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports: "the situation [in Victoria] is so dire that some of Melbourne's leading private practices specialising in eating disorders have been forced to close their doors to new patients."

Unfortunately, experts say that being unable to access treatment for an eating disorder early will (predictably) give rise to more dire outcomes.

"Eating disorders are a particularly dangerous form of mental illness," explains the report. "They can progress rapidly and are associated with high mortality rates, including a 32-fold increased risk of suicide."

And as successful as Melbourne's lockdown was for containing the virus, it was also the perfect petri dish for eating disorders to proliferate: "Stress, anxiety, loss of control and dislocation from friends, school and normal life are all potential triggers for disordered eating," writes the SMH, adding that the pandemic "supercharged" an already growing problem.

But in some good news, an eating disorder management plan was introduced in November 2019, where patients can claim up to 40 psychological sessions and 20 dietetics sessions within a 12-month period, signalling the disorders are being taken more seriously than they have in the past.

Like COVID, eating disorders are a public health threat, with only a quarter of those affected getting the support they need. We can only hope their growing prevalence is treated like the crisis it is.

If you're worried about body image issues or a potential eating disorder, you can talk to someone at the Butterfly Foundation by calling 1800 33 4673. You can also chat to someone online.

Written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer at MTV Australia. Follow her at @purpletank