NHS to give therapy for harmful social media as part of plan to tackle rare eating disorder

Hundreds of people will receive therapy to counteract the impact of harmful social media, as part of a new NHS service for the rare eating disorder diabulimia.

Patients will be coached to deal with unrealistic body images amid increasing concerns about the potential damage social media can have on young peoples’ mental health.

Diabulimia is a condition where people with Type 1 Diabetes restrict their insulin intake to lose weight and can lead to serious complications including blindness and amputations. It is most common in young people aged between ages 15 and 30.

Responding to growing awareness of the potentially deadly condition, NHS England today announced that it will pilot services joining up treatment for diabetes and mental ill health in London and the South Coast.

The new service comes as the NHS Long Term Plan has committed to deliver a step change in mental health treatment and a renewed focus on children and young people’s health.

Patients who are referred to the new services will also be offered daily structured meal planning and clinical support to manage their insulin intake as well as therapy.

The services which mark a major step forward in the improved recognition of the condition will begin later this year and if successful, more services will be rolled out across the country.

Two in five women and one in ten men with Type 1 diabetes are thought to have diabulimia.

The new service will also provide:

  • Eating disorder teams including team members specialising in mental healthcare and Type 1 diabetes
  • Specialist day care centres including structured meal planning and advice on glucose and insulin management
  • Tailored care ranging from hospital stays where necessary and help in the community to provide advice on diet, insulin doses, as well as mental health support
  • Training for healthcare workers to increase their knowledge of the condition.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England said: “As a diabetes clinician, I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact that this condition can have on people and their families and so these services are an important step forward in the recognition of diabulimia.

“With further emerging evidence from these pilot sites and more joined up working as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, we will treat many more in the near future.”

Patients will be treated by a wide range of healthcare staff, including mental health therapists and specialist diabetes nurses, under one service to address physical and mental health needs.

Online learning will be provided for people with diabulimia, carers and families so they can better understand the condition and support their loved ones.

The pilot will reduce emergency admissions to hospital for complications resulting from diabulimia.

Claire Murdoch, national director for mental health at NHS England said: “Body image pressure is helping to drive ever increasing numbers of young people to the health service for treatment and support and while diabulimia is rare it can be just as deadly as other more common eating disorders.

“These pilots are another important step forward but the fact is the NHS can’t do it all – wider society needs take a long hard look what more we can do together to protect young people’s wellbeing.”

NHS England remains firmly on track to deliver on the target to treat 95% of all children and young people with an eating disorder in one week for urgent cases and four weeks for routine cases by 2020/21.

With an extra £30 million going in to eating disorder services every year, and 70 community treatment teams covering the whole of the country more young people than ever before are getting the right treatment, at the right time, closer to home.

Libby Dowling, senior clinical advisor at Diabetes UK said: “Diabulimia is a serious eating disorder which – without the right clinical and mental health support – can have devastating consequences, such as stroke, kidney failure and blindness. It can also be fatal. Diabetes UK welcomes this investment from NHS England to pilot two new sites designed to support people living with diabulimia as effectively as possible. It provides new hope that we will be able to much better support people with diabulimia.

“Diabulimia is often well hidden by those living with it, and difficult to spot by healthcare professionals. And with as many as four in ten women aged between 15 and 35 affected by diabulimia at some point, it’s so important that specialist – and joined-up – services like these are made available to those who need them. These pilots are so important, and we hope their success will inspire even more investment across England.”