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Common On Campus: Eating Disorders And College Students

There are a lot of myths about eating disorders. They only affect teenage girls. It’s a choice. People have them in order to gain attention. The truth is eating disorders can and do impact any person regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic background. They are never a choice and are not about attention.

While we are all vulnerable, certain populations are more at risk. One group is college students.

College is more than freedom from parents and parties. It’s a major transition period! For many students, it is the first time living away from home, possibly the first time making one’s own meals, planning for the future, and being challenged in new ways. There can also be an intense amount of self-criticism and comparison to others that happens on campus. Some students will arrive on campus with mental health issues and others will develop them during their years in college. Studies suggest that full blown eating disorders usually begin between ages 18 to 21.

Here are a few ways that parents, college administrators and staff, as well as students can become more aware and provide the necessary support it takes when someone is struggling with an eating disorder.

Students: Before arriving on campus, become aware of support groups hosted on or off campus. Continue to work with your outpatient team or ask them to help you find specialist in your new location. Ask for support from family, friends and college counseling staff, health services or RAs when you need it.

Parents: Make a plan with your child that works for both of you – maybe it’s coming to visit every weekend or having your child come home on weekends until the eating disorder is less prominent in your child’s life. Work with the college counseling or outpatient team to determine what measures should be put into place for your child – weekly weigh-ins or vitals.

College Administrators and Staff: Consider hosting on campus support or therapeutic groups for students struggling with eating disorders or other mental health issues. Offer programming at orientation or at dorm meetings that focuses on eating disorder education. Be clear with parents and students around policies related to health and mental health. Host NEDAwareness events on campus.

If you are concerned about yourself or someone you know please consider taking a screening. Help is just a phone call away.

Emily Slager, M.Ed., LMHC, is the Program Director of Walden Behavioral Care’s Hickory Drive Clinic. She is responsible for providing clinical, administrative and fiscal oversight for the clinic. Previously, she was Director of Walden Behavioral Care’s Residential Program for Adults and Adolescents in Waltham, MA. Formerly, she was a clinician on Walden’s inpatient eating disorder and psychiatric units. Ms. Slager earned her master’s degree in counseling psychology from Boston College. Her professional interests include the development and treatment of eating disorders in athletes and in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.