The hidden pandemic: mental illness

depressed 2021

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Jasmine Elliott, a third year of medicine at Monash University, Australia. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


According to the Institute for Disease Modelling, the estimated infection-fatality ratio of COVID-19 was approximately 1%.

20% of patients with anorexia nervosa die in a 20-year time frame.

That’s 5 times the expected rate within that age group due to physical health issues, and 32 times the rate of suicide (Australian Dept. Health, 2005).

How are these two issues even remotely related?

In Australia, gyms closed, people were advised to self-isolate and grocery store shelves were regularly restocked and promptly emptied. Our on-the-go lifestyle went inside, almost overnight to minimise the spread of a contagious and dangerous pandemic.

On my Instagram feed, I didn’t see people scared of COVID. I saw a tsunami of fear about weight gain. We instead heard of things like the ‘quarantine 15,’ or the 15-pound weight gain during self-isolation.

In a society where diet culture already permeates our every move, the megaphone of ‘wellness’ and worth being equated with a thin body is only reinforcing the aetiology of another fatal illness – eating disorders. The community of young people struggling with this mental illness are struggling more than ever, with EndED receiving an increase in people seeking assistance by 30% and the Butterfly Foundation receiving more calls and messages.

Recently I was discharged from hospital with one main prescription. In order to stay alive, I needed to gain over double the ‘quarantine 15’ which is terrifying society so much. Already, I have only met one of my ongoing treatment team in person. As someone whose perception of eating and exercise was so distorted, imagine trying to recover in a world where this distorted messaging has become the norm.

Yes. Stress contributes to eating more energy and nutrient-dense food. Our bodies are preparing us for a disaster, a situation of scarcity and the potential of contracting a disease. It’s not necessarily a ‘binge’ or an abnormal phenomenon- we’re innately programmed for fight or flight and energy is protection.

Being concerned about gaining weight, nutrition and lack of exercised might not mean that you have an eating disorder. By all means, participate in that home workout, make the kale smoothie and eat nutritiously.

But equally, ensure you’re not participating in the damaging dialogue making weight gain the enemy in the context of a global pandemic. Ensure that you’re not indirectly contributing to the culture that, mixed with isolation, reduced access to professional help and a climate so disconnected from control forms the perfect recipe for eating disorder recovery relapse.

For some people, the very things you’re terrified of – resting and eating – are necessary for their recovery.

So please, consider whether you are truly more afraid of a few pounds, or a fatal illness.

About the author

Jasmine Elliott is in her third year of medicine at Monash University and a passionate advocate for youth mental health, as a volunteer and as an eheadspace Peer Moderator, providing online support for struggling young people. She is strongly motivated by the experiences of those around her, in addition to her own to make a positive impact on the mental health journey – increasing access to help by decreasing the stigma around seeking it. Jasmine is also heavily involved in rural health, and broader health advocacy within her roles at the Australian Medical Students’ Association.

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