Kids’ Mental Health: How to recognize if your child is struggling with an eating disorder

Connecticut Families

GUILDFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — “Kids and adolescents are still really struggling. The world is still really struggling,” says Rebekah Bardwell Doweyko of Walden Behavioral Care, an eating disorder clinic in Guilford.

She says problems with unhealthy eating patterns continue during this global pandemic.

“I think for a lot of people, an eating disorder is a maladaptive coping skill when folks feel like there’s something out of their control,” she says, noting that kids picked up on talk of dieting and shedding “the COVID-19” weight gain during isolation.

“They themselves can get wrapped up in those sorts of routines and hear that messaging,” she said.

They’re getting messages at home and oftentimes on social media where a focus on “appearances” is ever-present.

“What we know is that the dependency on likes releases dopamine which feels really good,” Bardwell Doweyko said. “And then more and more likes are needed to continue those feel-good feelings.”

According to NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association), eating disorders have the second-highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid addiction.

“The message for parents to hear is to be curious, ask questions to not assume something is a phase,” says Bardwell Doweyko.

Signs that parents should look for include: a sudden shift in diet preferences, a rapid change in weight, hiding bodies under loose clothing, or a hesitance to come to dinner.

“‘I’ve already eaten or I’ll eat later,'” she explains. “We know that lack of regular family mealtimes and or chaotic family mealtimes can create high-risk situations for disordered eating.”

If you can’t find a therapist with availability, involve school counselors and utilize available telehealth services.

“It’s really been a COVID silver lining. We’ve been able to far extend the outreach that we were previously,” says Bardwell Doweyko. “We’ve been able to reach families who previously would not have had access to treatment.”

She says data studies show that virtual care – which has been expanded – can be as effective as in-person care.

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