A concerned mother has encouraged parents to check for warning signs as her daughter continues to battle an eating disorder.
Kathryn Herbison’s 14-year-old daughter Jessica has spent almost three months at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital after being diagnosed with anorexia.
Having repeatedly returned home from school with a full lunchbox, Jessica went to hospital in early October, just three days after first seeing a doctor about the condition.
Kathryn, 47, has said that despite Jessica eating normally at the start of the first lockdown, her eating habits soon changed. She said: “At the start of lockdown everything centred around food, so we were cooking together and having proper meals.
“Then towards the end of August, I started to worry and notice something was wrong. She would drink water all the time, and was eating only a tiny amount very slowly.
“She was starting to look ill; people were noticing she was looking very tired and pale and she was so weak.
“Eventually she admitted she had a problem, and at that point, she was eating half a tin of soup a day and that was it.”
After being in hospital for 10 days and showing signs of progress, Jessica was discharged only to return to hospital in early November.
Days later she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, and now can only eat liquid food through a nasogastric tube.
She is currently waiting for a space in a specialist eating disorder unit – the nearest of which is in Cambridge – where she can continue her treatment, but coronavirus has prolonged her wait for a place.
But Kathryn, from Norwich – who has been prevented from returning home or resuming her work as a community carer due to restrictions – has praised the “lovely” hospital staff for their efforts.
“I go home maybe once a week to pick up things, but nobody can visit or come and see Jess,” Kathryn said.
“Because of the new lockdown, we cannot even meet people in car park – she hasn’t seen her family for 10 weeks and is desperate to go home.
“I don’t want to criticise the hospital staff at all – they are doing their best and it is not their fault.
“They are frustrated as well because they can’t give Jess the specialist help here that she needs.
“I am basically living here, and they have all been lovely and cannot do enough for you.”
Jessica’s condition comes amid concern over a huge rise in the number of people suffering from eating disorders nationwide, following months of lockdown.
In September, eating disorder charity Beat said that there had been a 97% increase in the amount of people contacting its helpline for issues such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating.
Kathryn partly blames social media for her daughter’s condition, which she believes negatively impacted her daughter’s self-esteem.
“Jessica said that she started to look in the mirror and she didn’t like what she saw,” she added.
“From there a seed was planted and it grew and grew. She felt really pressured because nobody eats; young girls don’t eat lunch at school, everything is about skipping meals and calories.
“Social media has contributed to that. Look at Jessie from Little Mix and how people have trolled her because of her appearance and weight.
“All the pictures you see are airbrushed, they’re not people’s natural bodies and for a 14-year-old girl to worry about what she is eating and what she looks like shows there is so much pressure.
“It shouldn’t be about what you look like, so long as you are healthy and happy.”
Now Kathryn encourages parents to be vigilant for signs of eating disorders.
Symptoms of anorexia can include missing meals, suppressing appetite, changes to the menstrual cycle or light-headedness.
She said: “With anorexia, half the issue is admitting that you’ve got a problem, but Jess does – she wants to get better and she wants the help.
“Jess was so full of life and to see her now, she is so scared all the time of what it will turn her into, and that the real Jess is gone and will never come back.
“If parents notice anything different, the slightest little thing, then keep an eye on it, speak to your GP, the school or if they are really concerned – I know people don’t want to come to a hospital at the minute – but get help.”
Anyone who has concerns about eating disorders can call the charity Beat on 0808 801 0677.