Opinion | An undiscussed symptom of the pandemic

The pandemic and shut downs in the United States has led to a drastic increase of eating disorders and it’s not being talked about nearly enough.


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Photo of a disposable mask.

Ally Pronina, Opinions Columnist

In the midst of arguing about COVID-19, both President Trump and former Vice President Biden left out an important, non-partisan issue relating to it — this pandemic has worsened eating disorders.

Hotline calls to the National Eating Disorders Association have increased 70-80% during these past few months.  A July survey done by the International Journal of Eating Disorders found 62% of people in America felt symptoms worsen as the pandemic hit. Also, that nearly a third of Americans with binge-eating experienced an increase in episodes during that time frame.

Eating disorders are more lethal than opioid use disorders, having the 2nd highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

We shouldn’t prevent deaths from COVID-19 by overlooking those by eating disorders and other mental health issues. Now more than ever, it is important to become knowledgeable about the issue and know what to do if we or anyone else starts experiencing eating disorders.

If you know someone who already has an eating disorder, check in with them. Make sure they eat three meals a day, don’t vomit after eating, and don’t overeat.

We can also help people with eating disorders by distracting from obsessive thoughts about weight and food. If you and the person don’t live together, have a Netflix party, hang out over zoom, or even do something in person while practicing public health guidelines, if you both feel comfortable.

One more thing to look out for is other mental issues — those of us with other disorders such as anxiety or depression are at an increased risk for having eating disorders.

While there are things which can be done at the individual level, our government can also do more to help. One thing which annoyed me during the debates was when responding to Trump about why he wants to close the country, Biden completely ignored his point about how hard quarantine has been on people with mental illnesses.

I understand Biden probably does care about people struggling with their mental health and just could not think of a response to that in two minutes. I also understand there were many other issues which needed to be addressed in his answer and he wants to close the country because he thinks that is what will protect us physically.

That does not change the fact if the government thinks of a way to better people with mental ilnesses during the pandemic, there will be less deaths due to suicide and binge-drinking. In the case of eating disorders, it could prevent people dying from starving themselves, purging, and overeating.

Just like University of Iowa had a mandatory class about CVD-19 regulations, public universities can have classes about mental illness and how to help and talk to people who have them and ourselves if we start developing them during the pandemic, including  eating disorders.

Plus, this will hopefully decrease the stigma around eating disorders. People who have them do not choose to be that way. They all result from various environmental and biological factors.

Decreasing the stigma makes it easier for people with eating disorders to communicate their struggles and be more likely to receive help.

I wrote a piece about Iowa City’s Mercy Hospital care closing inpatient care. To someone with an eating disorder, receiving inpatient care can make the difference between life and death. Government can help by providing funding for hospitals so they don’t have to close down when they are needed the most.

Hopefully we can all agree caring about and helping people going through a lethal psychiatric illness is a noble cause.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.