Why is there so little support for people with eating disorders at UoN?
Nottingham Uni should be doing more to help students with eating disorders, says Ana Maria-Braddock
A lot of people have preconceived ideas about eating disorders, i.e. an anorexic is just a superficial wannabe model who chooses to starve herself so she can fit into her skinny jeans.
Well, I’m gonna go right ahead and bust those myths with some good old fashioned numbers: eating disorders affect 1.6million people in the UK and they actually have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with 1 in 5 of the most severely affected dying prematurely.
Uni is known as a particularly high-risk environment for those who are predisposed to EDs, so you would think that Universities would offer resources to support them. Nope. Beat, the eating disorder charity, has found that 69% of students who suffered from an ED at university had trouble finding treatment and 57% either had to suspend their studies or drop out altogether.
Notts, I found, is no exception. I came to Nottingham in September 2011 just a few weeks after finishing outpatient treatment for a serious eating disorder. I was convinced that I was healthy enough to cope with the move to university, but I didn’t settle in well. As my mood plummeted, so did my weight and after only a couple of months I had to accept that I needed help.
First I tried my personal tutor, who suggested that I took up exercise for the endorphins…
Next, the uni counselling service offered me a study skills workshop, because apparently learning to draw a decent mind map resolves serious mental health problems.
At least my GP took me seriously and went as far as to make me an appointment with the Nottinghamshire Eating Disorder service. Unfortunately, it was in Radford which might as well have been the moon as far as I was concerned.
Finally, I went to a B-eat meeting on campus (basically AA for eating disorders) which was great in many ways but at the end of the day was just a group of students having a chat about their issues.
And that was it. That still is it. I was shocked and disappointed at the lack of pastoral care at the Uni. At the very least, Notts should be training academic tutors to know what to do when a student comes to them for advice about a mental health issue.
All UoN has to offer ED sufferers is a fortnightly student-run self help group and an extremely oversubscribed counselling service (10 working days wait for an appointment!).
When the counselling service is in so much demand that students have to wait two weeks for an appointment, isn’t it time to expand it? Maybe even employ some specialists in one of the most common and most dangerous mental illnesses among students? Just a thought. I refer you back to the statistics at the top of this page to show why this is really, really not enough.
Although there is a specialist eating disorders service in Nottingham, the Uni has no links with it and appointment is by GP referral only. I found it more or less by accident as it’s not publicised anywhere on the Student Services websites. Even the Uni’s counselling service either didn’t know about it or didn’t feel the need to tell me.
Both the university administration and the SU reps really need to think hard about improving the situation. Eating Disorders are not the best publicised mental health issues in the world but they are some of the most dangerous and common so those who suffer from them really do deserve more from UoN.