Why target students and young people?
The predominate age of onset for eating disorders is roughly around the years an individual will spend as a student. There are however many reasons why students are seen as a particularly vulnerable group.
The transition a student makes from living at home to living independently can be a difficult one for any individual; however for people who are already struggling with eating difficulties, there are many additional problems. Leaving established support networks behind is daunting. Moving away from home will raise issues regarding food that may not have been faced while living with one’s family. There is also the question of how to explain to those around you that everything in your life is not exactly as it appears on the surface. It can be difficult for people to talk about issues surrounding an eating disorder at the best of times. The concept of explaining what may have developed into a deep secret, to a collection of individuals you have only recently met, and very much hope will be your friends, is frightening. This leaves many students leading a double life. The struggle to appear “normal” drains energy that is all too desperately needed to keep them afloat in the battle against an eating disorder.
These problems can lead an individual to feel very alone with their struggles. One of the primary aims of a self help group is to allow sufferers a space where they can talk openly about their problems in a supportive environment. It is hoped that this allows individuals a chance to realise that they are not alone.
Should a crisis arise, students may feel the need to drop out of university. As SWEDA note that, “This can lead, for the first time, to a young person being motivated to address their eating disorder and seek help. However they are generally “not ill enough” to get help through statutory services, so cannot access the help and support needed to resume their studies.”
Self help groups can help provide early support. They can offer individuals support as they work on recovery. They can help an individual find the motivation to engage in professional support. We hope they will provide the support students need to help them stay in education.