The most deadly mental health disorder is weaving its way in CU campus life.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health Web site.
Although eating disorders are treatable, it is important to know the facts.
The disorder bulimia nervosa can lead to a ruptured stomach and an inflamed esophagus, and anorexia nervosa can cause severe health implications such as brittle bones, irregular heartbeat and thyroid malfunctions.
According to the S.C. Mental Health Web site, The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females ages 15 to 24 years old.
Although women are more susceptible to eating disorders, men are at risk for developing them too.
“It is hard to get men (to seek treatment), but they are here and they are on campus,” said Dr. Alisa Shanks, the current eating disorders clinician and program coordinator at the Wardenburg Health Center.
Every two years the American College Health Association conducts the National College Health Assessment in the spring. The 2007 survey involved 664 CU students. Of the 664 respondents, 2.9 percent reported suffering from anorexia and 2.6 percent reported suffering from bulimia.
Shanks said she sees an average of 10 clients per week for psychological-related problems, which includes eating disorders.
Her team of physicians, registered dietitians and therapists treat patients on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
“Depression and anxiety often accompany eating disorders,” Shanks said. “The recovery is definitely a journey. We have guidelines of what kind of care people need.”
The Wardenburg Health Center is available for CU students with mild cases of eating disorders because the center can only accommodate patients for up to one visit per week. Students with more severe cases of the psychological disorder are referred to the La Luna Center, an intensive outpatient evening program.
“Each client has their own issues. There are so many contributing factors in developing an eating disorder,” Shanks said.
According to Shanks, there is a reason why someone would develop an eating disorder.
“In therapy we attempt to discover the function of the eating disorder (for the individual) and replace it with a healthier behavior,” Shanks said.
Although the symptoms of an eating disorder vary from person to person, a few indicators are usually present in one who suffers from the psychological condition.
Anorexia nervosa is defined as a disorder of self-starvation and excessive weight loss.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the symptoms include loss of menstrual periods in females, an irrational fear of gaining weight, a warped sense of body image and a refusal to maintain a normal body weight.
Bulimia nervosa involves consuming excessive quantities of food followed by purging the calories contained in the food. Habitual self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise and fasting are some characteristics of the purging component of bulimia.
“Bulimia is not as physically evident as anorexia. Most bulimics are normal to high average in weight,” Shanks said. “For people who don’t struggle with disordered eating it is hard to understand why someone can’t eat.”
For more information regarding the treatment for eating disorders on the national level, contact the NEDA information and referral helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For local help, visit a local psychiatrist near you.
“If you are worried about a friend don’t try to take on their recovery, help them get assistance from a professional,” Shanks said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Elise Puritz at email@example.com.