Dr Luci Etheridge is a Consultant Paediatrician at St George’s, and Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the Trust.

Dr Etheridge has spoken to Channel 5 news about the challenges children and young people face at the moment – which has led to some developing eating disorders and, in the most severe cases, leaving some requiring hospital care.

Dr Etheridge, who has worked at St George’s for eight years, specialises in adolescent health. She also works as part of a mental health team based at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust.

1 in 6 children and young people has a diagnosable mental health problem, and 50% of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms before the age of 14.  In the last year, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the mental health of the nation’s children and young people has really suffered.

“Locally, we have seen a major increase in referrals to the regional Children and Young Person’s Eating Disorders Service.  Across the country, referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH) services have also increased. In the young people I meet as part of my work in eating disorders, the impact of the pandemic and the loss of school and ‘normal’ life has been a central part of the narrative. 

“As we move out of lockdown, we hope to see the situation improve, but young people still face an uncertain future, and many feel a loss of control and an anger they don’t know how to channel.  Many protective factors that have traditionally kept them healthy, such as friends, grandparents, teachers, sports and clubs have all been lost over the past year.  Early help for mental health difficulties is often provided through schools, so – despite the best efforts of many people – that has also been affected, leaving already stressed parents often not knowing what to do.

“Fortunately, not all people who develop eating disorders require hospital care. However, here at St George’s, like elsewhere in the country, we are admitting and caring for more patients with eating disorders than previously. This is incredibly tough for everyone involved, including our staff. We have a range of experts who are trained to provide specialist support for patients – and as the number of patients has increased, so has our expertise and ability to provide effective solutions for children and young people. But the key is to address the problem and talk about it early, without apportioning any blame.

“The most important thing we can do is support children and young people, because that is what they need most right now. There is support out there. The Young Minds website is full of helpful resources and information for both parents and young people.  If you are worried about your child’s eating, then look at the Beat website for pointers about whether they may have developed an eating disorder and what you can do. 

“Talking about your child’s mental health with them and acknowledging what they are feeling is a vital first step to helping them recover.”