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19 Aug, Friday
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Montreal Families

Support for teens with eating disorders

CHU Sainte-Justine is launching a new intensive ambulatory care pilot program throughout Quebec to help children being treated for an eating disorder and offer support to their families.

Through a $300,000 donation from Bell Let’s Talk, the program and its innovative remote support will help young people and their families at home.

Sainte-Justine notes that the prevalence of eating disorders has risen sharply in recent years, especially among children 12 and under. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exasperated the situation and the number of cases in Quebec has doubled since March 2020. 

“We’re seeing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on teenagers up close – CHU Sainte-Justine receives 40 per cent of eating disorder hospitalizations and often the most complex cases,” said Dr. Danielle Taddeo, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at CHU Sainte-Justine, and co-director of the Integrated Centre for Eating Disorders. “Our ambition is to intervene early with the largest number of patients to prevent the progression of the disease, reduce its duration and improve the prognosis. Keeping these teenagers with their families and in their communities, while still making sure they receive care, is a tried-and-true strategy that is at the core of this new initiative.”

Virtual support for patients and families

Previously, children who had been hospitalized in Sainte-Justine for an eating disorder had access after their discharge to a follow-up day hospital. Since the start of the pandemic, this crucial service is no longer available. This donation will allow intensive outpatient monitoring through adapted virtual communication, and bridge the gap between growing needs and the availability of services. The program will also facilitate access to Sainte-Justine’s expertise for patients who live outside of Montreal — who account for 75 per cent of the hospital’s clientele.

The new initiative aims to provide more support to young people and can be offered to the child or their parents, according to their needs. Online support strategies may include one-on-one or group sessions, therapeutic activities, virtual meals with a psycho educator, remote individual or family therapy, and activities to break isolation and reduce anxiety. Taddeo said that currently there is not much information about eating disorders on the hospital’s website, which is something they hope to improve with Bell’s donation.

The program is still in the planning stages; children and their families will need to be referred to benefit from the program. The hospital will be evaluating the various actions put in place, and will measure the response of patients and families regarding the new method of care.

Taddeo explained that Sainte-Justine presently offers outpatient and inpatient care, on referral. The phone number of the eating disorders clinic is 514-345-4722.

An increase in cases worldwide

It is not only in Quebec where the pandemic is causing an increase in eating disorders among youth. Around the world, experts in pediatrics and mental health say pandemic stress and its unprecedented mental health challenges is fuelling a surge in eating disorders in young children. Confined at home, many children and teens are currently experiencing increased stress, an absence of team sports, fewer organized activities, disrupted routines, isolation, and less support from their peers. For some, conditions brought on by the pandemic have been a trigger.

For immediate help

Youth between the ages of 12 and 20 needing advice about eating disorders can do so confidentially and anonymously with a counsellor from Anorexia and Bulimia Quebec (ANEB). A helpline is also available every day, from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m.

Those living in Montreal can call 514-630-0907, and outside of Montreal the toll-free number is 1-800-630-0907. The website is anebquebec.com

For teens looking to combat the stress of the pandemic, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (nedic.ca) has teamed up with Canadian eating disorder experts to offer an ongoing COVID-19 Care Series that can be found on its YouTube channel.

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