7 Ways to Support College Students With Eating Disorders - Dr. Casey Tallent
It’s that time of year. Students are heading back to campus and faculty and staff are gearing up to care for students who are going to be away from home.
The demands on college mental health professionals are particularly challenging; therapists have to be prepared for any student who walks through the door regardless of the presenting concern.
Unfortunately, most therapists do not receive much training on how to treat eating disorders. They are often forced to piece together their own training.
I know this well because I worked for years in college mental health. Coordinating eating disorders services, I was often inundated with students coming in for eating disorder concerns or eating disorder-related issues — masked in anxiety, depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Early in my career, I learned how important it was to educate students, trainees, and colleagues in how to deal with eating disorders.
Now, in my role at Eating Recovery Center, I have the pleasure of educating college professionals across the country and working with students struggling with eating disorders. I help them establish eating disorder treatment teams and develop treatment policies to provide the best possible care to their students.
I’ve helped colleges across the nation improve their eating disorder services, and now, I offer you these seven tips to help you work more effectively with college students and eating disorder issues.
- Encourage students to seek help for eating disorders.
Students need to be invited to seek support for eating disorders (ED) and, sometimes, they need to be invited multiple times. By the time they get to college, many college students have either been shamed or praised for their eating disorders by friends, family, coaches, physicians, and even strangers, Make a difference and encourage students to seek help through outreach events, by using web education and tools, and by creating a safe place that offers ED treatment.
- Plan outreach events for eating disorder awareness.
The college environment can be stressful and competitive. You can host events throughout the year that support body positivity, show healthy ways to cope with stress, and highlight helpful resources. Consider hosting a stress-free day, providing information about your services, having an Ask-the-Dietitian booth, and hosting body positive events throughout the year. I’ve created campus kits that we can send you to help with these activities.
- Utilize your website and social media opportunities.
Let’s face it, we’re in the digital age and our students are likely to check out websites, apps and social media before they ever step foot inside our centers or make a phone call. Make it easy for them to get help. You can highlight information about your services for eating disorders on your website along with information and links to other helpful websites.
- Provide a safe and welcoming space.
Once a student has finally made an appointment and walked in to your center, make sure that they don’t receive any messages that it is not safe to talk about their struggles. What can make it unsafe to disclose? Pay attention to magazines or information displayed that might emphasize weight loss, the need for body changes, or other contrary messages.
- Provide specific services for students with eating disorders.
All too often I hear from parents and students who struggle because their college doesn’t offer services for eating disorder treatment. Statistically, we know that students on college campuses are at the prime age to struggle with eating disorders — and that they are, in fact, struggling. These students are often dedicated, high-achieving students that need support so that they can do all of the great things in life they are capable of doing.
- Offer (or pursue) Continuing Education on eating disorders.
Seek out education to improve your services. Listen to my free CE webinar (Registration link) to identify what you need on campus, how to begin or improve offering services and to get an overview of eating disorder statistics relevant to colleges.
- Practice (and encourage) self-care.
As a counseling psychologist, I would be remiss not to mention the importance of self-care. College mental health care is rewarding, but it is very demanding work. Practice what you preach and make sure you engage in good self-care so that you can offer the best care to your students. Find some time to get lost in a book, go for a walk, engage in a hobby, and, please, spend time relaxing!