Opinion

Tackling transition will improve the recovery of young people with eating disorders

Research nurse Sarah J Taylor, with UK eating disorder charity Beat and the Burdett Trust, has produced a free training package to help nurse support young people with an eating disorder.

Research nurse Sarah J Taylor, with UK eating disorder charity Beat and the Burdett Trust, has produced a free training package to help nurse support young people with an eating disorder


A young person with an eating disorder may miss out on experiencing
ordinary adolescent life. Picture: iStock

There are more than 700,000 people in the UK with an eating disorder. Those who suffer from eating disorders experience physical complications, poor quality of life, disrupted relationships, emotional distress, social isolation and economic disadvantage. The risk of early death is one of the highest among patients with psychiatric disorders.

Service transitions are frequently highlighted in both service user feedback (Young Minds, 2006) and NHS Policy (Scottish Executive, 2005) as being an area of significant concern. Young people can get ‘lost’ during transitions, with one quarter of young people transferred to adult mental health services failing to attend their first appointment (Sing, 2010) and often falling between gaps in care.  

We know that such a disruption can have a negative impact on physical health, mental well-being and engagement with services and associated treatment. However, young people experiencing mental health problems may face a wide range of transitions in addition to the widely acknowledged move from child to adult mental health. This can include inpatient to community care, high school to further education or employment and the transitions between friendships and family members. 

Affecting development

Eating disorders commonly develop in adolescence, a time when normative transitions happen frequently. It is recognised that changes in a young person’s life may make eating disorder symptoms worse or trigger relapse (Holliday et al, 2014). Furthermore, developing an eating disorder in adolescence is known to affect physical, emotional and social development.  

A young person with an eating disorder may miss out on experiencing ordinary adolescent life, including risk-taking, socialising, education, romantic relationships and having autonomy from parents. It therefore affects development and maturity. 

Nurses play a key role in supporting a young person with an eating disorder through transitions and any associated anxiety and stress. The supportive relationship a nurse can have with a young person and their family is crucial in transitions. 

Training package 

Nurses from NHS Lothian Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) have worked with national eating disorder charity Beat to increase knowledge and raise awareness of the experience of key ‘transitions’ for young people with eating disorders. 

The team developed a training resource that was supported by a wide range of contributors, including university mental health advisors, multi-disciplinary eating disorder professionals, parents and carers and Beat Young Ambassadors: young people under 25 years old who have recovered from an eating disorder. They were able to provide an insight into the experience of an eating disorder and difficulties associated with transitions.

The training package, funded by the Burdett Trust, provides nurses with the opportunity to increase awareness of eating disorders, insight and stories from people with lived experience and associated guidance around transitions. It prompts reflection on these experiences with the aim of supporting professionals in their approach and engagement with families and young people, ultimately to improve outcomes for young people with eating disorders. 

Sophie, Beat Young Ambassador, Burdett Trust Transition Package:

‘An eating disorder is very, very miserable. There’s this perception that you must get some satisfaction out of it, because otherwise why keep doing it?

‘It’s generally scary because you know that carrying on with the same behaviours is not sustainable, but at the same time there’s nothing more terrifying than confronting the reality of changing your behaviours. It’s an unstable way to live and that uncertainty just makes you want to control things even more. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle until you get the help you need.’

Links to resources and training:


Sarah J Taylor is a research nurse at NHS Lothian

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