In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from clinically significant eating disorders, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Web site. On college campuses 5 to 20 percent of college females and 1 to 7 percent of college males have been reported as suffering from eating disorders. And four out of 10 individuals have either personally experienced an eating disorder or know someone who has.
This week, Boston College’s chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), a non-profit organization dedicated to finding help for people struggling with mental illness, is hosting events coinciding with National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDAwareness) Week.
According to nationaleatingdisorders.com, educating students on getting help for eating disorders has become crucial. Eating disorders can often go undiagnosed, and the rate at which they have been diagnosed in recent years has increased dramatically.
“Eating disorders can occur in many different forms,” Hanaa Khan, co-president of TWLOHA and LSOE ’17, said. “They are also nondiscriminatory.”
In addition to drawing attention to the importance of early detection and intervention when it comes to eating disorders, the week emphasizes what friends and family can do to support those who suffer from eating disorders.
“Mental health is associated with a certain stigma that renders talking about it difficult. I wanted to change that. I wanted to bring these issues to the forefront rather than let them simmer on the backburner.”
—Gilbert Pan, co-president of TWLOHA and MCAS ’16
TWLOHA started NEDAwareness week with a pledge-signing in front of O’Neill Library. The pledge was to love one’s body despite imperfections, similar to what TWLOHA did during National Suicide Prevention Week during the week of Sept. 7. Next came a Scale Smash in O’Neill Plaza on Wednesday from 12 to 2 p.m. The Smash is supposed to rid the stigma associated with eating disorders and continue to promote positive body images, Gilbert Pan, co-president of TWLOHA and MCAS ’16 said. The week will conclude with a movie screening of To Write Love on Her Arms on Sunday at 5 p.m. in Stokes 103N.
The film is based on the true story of a 19-year-old girl fighting drug addiction, manic depression, self-harm, and other life issues and how her friends and family helped put her on the path to recovery. It inspired TWLOHA chapters to start up in different colleges all over the country.
“Mental health is associated with a certain stigma that renders talking about it difficult,” Pan said in an email. “I wanted to change that. I wanted to bring these issues to the forefront rather than let them simmer on the backburner.”
The danger of eating disorders, Khan said, is that they will frequently go undiagnosed until the person’s health is at risk.
The longer an eating disorder goes untreated, the more advanced it becomes and the harder it is to achieve full recovery. That is why this year’s NEDAwareness week is titled 3 Minutes Can Save a Life: Get Screened. Get Help. Get Healthy.
In addition to attending TWLOHA’s on-campus events, students can go online and take a free screening where participants can learn whether it is time to seek professional help.
“It’s time to get beyond the stigma and stereotypes and recognize the diverse experiences of people affected by disordered eating,” Claire Mysko, interim CEO of NEDA, said in an online statement. “Early intervention is a critical first step toward ending this epidemic, and everyone who is struggling deserves to be able to access help without delay to provide them the best chance possible of full recovery.”
In terms of prevention, it is important to pinpoint risk factors, like societal pressures, dieting, and family social support deficits, according to nationaleatingdisorders.org, that may make an individual susceptible to eating disorders, and learn how to diminish them in everyday life.
“TWLOHA is predicated on creating a community on campus to talk about mental health and foster hope,” Khan said in an email. “It is more than just specific mental illnesses—it is about connection and the power of hope.”
Featured Image by Emily Fahey /Heights Senior Staff