I’m in College: How Do I Get Help For My Eating Disorder?
What if you are a student who is struggling with an eating disorder, but you don’t want to admit it? To those students who are not struggling, it might seem obvious that they would reach out for help. There may however, be a plethora of reasons holding this person back from seeking help. If you are college student struggling with an eating disorder, hopefully after reading the common anxieties that often deter college students from seeking treatment, you will feel more encouraged to find yourself the help you deserve.
I don’t want a diagnosis. In today’s society, there is a stigma associated with having an eating disorder or any mental health problem. Many students are fearful that if they are labeled as having an eating disorder then that is who they are. This is simply not true. You are not your eating disorder. The only time a diagnosis is needed is if you are asking for accommodations at school or if your clinician needs to provide insurance companies with an appropriate diagnosis. Other than that, you should look at an eating disorder as a series of symptoms that need to be treated.
I don’t want to get kicked out of school. Getting help does not mean you get kicked out of school. In some cases, what can happen is that the school can ask for you to take a medical leave of absence and come back to school when you are more stable. However, schools legally cannot force you to take a leave of absence unless you pose an imminent threat to the university. The school can require an assessment from a mental health professional at the school prior to returning to school, and in my experience, this is usually a director of the mental health or counseling services department.
Make sure you CLEARLY ASK, and get documented, the requirements for readmission should you decide to take a voluntary leave of absence. It is best practice for a college to have a pre-established set of guidelines, but that does not mean your college does.
I don’t want people at my college to know. This makes sense! However, the process can be discrete and schools have counseling centers, some schools even have an eating disorder assessment team, that can assist with getting you the basic necessary services (connecting with a therapist, seeing a dietitian, getting an evaluation from a primary care physician) to help you get on the road to eating disorder recovery.
Balancing School and Treatment
At Walden’s Amherst clinic, we are right in the midst of several colleges and see college-age students quite often. The question asked most often, in some shape or form is, “How can I possibly be in treatment and handle all of my classes?”
Some students believe there is nothing they can do except try to stay on top of the workload. This is really hard! Then they fall behind, and their options are limited at this point. Proactive work on your own behalf leads to less stress in the long run.
So, what kinds of accommodations can you receive? You could:
Have a note taker and/or a tutor.
Get lectures recorded for you if you are going to miss class
Ask to be switched to alternative sections of a class in order to attend treatment
Request or negotiate for a lower course load while in treatment
Request frequent updates on your course grades/status as a student in class
Set up appointments to meet with your professors during office hours.
What generally happens when you ask for accommodations?
Generally, the student must be the person requesting accommodations, except in cases of hospitalization. Some colleges have a formal process, such as forms to fill out, while others just require you to set up an appointment to talk with the disability services office. During this process, you will generally be asked to state what would be helpful for your situation and your course load.
You have to get a letter from your psychiatrist or doctor documenting your disability.Generally it is best to provide the minimum amount of information required to get your request fulfilled. Check what the minimum requirements are with your school.
One final thought, colleges want you to be successful and getting treatment for an eating disorder while in school is possible. You don’t have to be scared about reaching out for help.
About the author:
Lauren Millerd has been with Walden Behavioral Care since 2014. Her past experience includes working in the Trauma & Dissociative Disorders Inpatient unit at McLean Hospital and prior to that, at the Institute of Living’s Young Adult Program. Lauren is an experienced advocate for young adults. She is passionate about working with college students, advocating for the rights of individuals struggling with mental health issues, and improving access to mental health treatment regardless of class, race, gender, sex, or circumstance. Lauren’s primary clinical interests are eating disorders, dissociation & trauma, emerging major mental illnesses, the Internal Family Systems model, and play therapy. Lauren is originally from Connecticut and enjoys living in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. She received her MSW from the Smith College School for Social Work in 2014 and has a BA in Psychology from the University of Connecticut.