Leeds-based eating disorder service provides 'lifeline' online support during Covid-19 pandemic

A Leeds-based eating disorders service which took its expertise online during the pandemic has proved a major success in helping those who otherwise may have had to face their struggles alone.

By Joanna Wardill
Thursday, 18th March 2021, 6:00 am

Connect: The West Yorkshire Adult Eating Disorder Service, based at The Newsam Centre at Seacroft Hospital, launched its Instagram Live service at the start of the pandemic and since then its videos have amassed over 45,000 views.

Designed to offer vital support to those with eating disorders across the country during the Covid-19 lockdown, the service has hosted around 350 lives - which is more than 150 hours of content.

Connect had been using Instagram since 2019 but the team's new ‘Connect Conversations’ were launched by staff who wanted to do more during the pandemic to make sure no-one was left facing an eating disorder alone.

A Leeds-based eating disorder service has proved a 'lifeline' during Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: PA

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The conversations are recovery-focused and led by team members including psychological therapists, psychologists, dietitians, mental health nurses and peer support workers.

They have also been running a weekly online support group known as the ‘Hub’ on Zoom for further discussion opportunities.

Mary Franklin-Smith, social media and early intervention lead at Connect, said: “Everyone has innate health and can recover. The conversations we’re having online during the pandemic are really in line with that and we’ve received some great feedback.

“Our followers have told us we’re helping to break down barriers and that they’re now less scared of healthcare professionals because when they see us on Instagram or at the Hub, they can see that we’re human.

“Eating disorders are isolating illnesses and we really want to help as many people as we can at a time when we’re all feeling a bit more isolated than usual.”

During the pandemic, Connect was recognised for its work on social media at the Health Business Awards, winning ‘Innovation in Mental Health’ category, and has been shortlisted for the national NHS Parliamentary Award for ‘Excellence in Mental Health Care’ category.

It has also been nominated for BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind Awards by a follower who wanted to remain anonymous, but who described the online conversations as “a lifeline during lockdown".

Each ‘Connect Conversation’ starts with a suggested theme, such as self-compassion, regular eating or identity, but is shaped by those who join live and the questions and subjects they raise.

They are also regular slots to offer support with snacks, tackle myths surrounding food and eating disorders and support followers to set goals.

Abi Reynolds, 37, is a mum-of-two who was diagnosed with anorexia two years ago who has been able to access the Leeds-based help at her home, more than 200 miles away in Edinburgh.

“I was discharged from hospital not long before lockdown and support groups were pared down when lockdown hit.

“I was really keen to keep up momentum in my recovery and make sure I sustained my progress and I think Connect are offering a brilliant service.

“It’s little and often and it gives you a bit of a boost each day to help you keep on track and remind you that you’re not alone.

“Eating disorders are isolating illnesses at the best of times, let alone in lockdown."

How to access support:

The online support being offered by Connect is currently available to anyone affected by an eating disorder.

Regular live chats take place on the Instagram account @connectlypft at around 10am and 4pm each weekday. Those unable to attend live can watch these back via the service’s IGTV channel.

To access the Hub support group on zoom, email [email protected]

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