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Back to SchoolAs the school year begins, a number of teenagers will be leaving home for college or university for the first time.  Although this is a time of great excitement and marks the beginning of moving forward into adulthood, it can also be filled with uncertainty and confusion.

The added pressures, responsibilities and deadlines of higher education combined with becoming acclimated to new living arrangements and social groups can be taxing on anyone.  When an individual is struggling with eating disordered behavior, the stress can propel him or her from a relatively manageable condition to a full blown eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or compulsive overeating disorder.

Historically, the initial onset of eating disorders has been observed to begin in the mid- to late- teens, so the college years represent a serious challenge to vulnerable individuals.  Of particular concern regarding eating disorders among the college population is the increased likelihood that the eating disordered behavior and other warning signs will go unnoticed and untreated.

The typical self-starvation behavior associated with anorexia may not stand out on campus given the fact that most college students are familiar with the legendary “freshman fifteen” (the number of pounds presumably gained by incoming classmen), and dieting behavior and food management strategies employed to avoid gaining weight.  Given that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders, and early detection and treatment is crucial to successful and lasting recovery, it is crucial that parents, classmates, educators and campus healthcare professionals understand that this is a serious mental illness.

On college campuses, bulimia may possibly pose greater danger because of the bulimic individual’s ability to mask the symptoms and hide the traits typical of the disorder.  With bulimics, the binging and purging behavior along with the use of laxatives and diuretics in addition to extreme exercise regimens may very well go unobserved in the maelstrom of activity taking place on the average campus.  The physiologic complications of bulimia include damage of internal organs, electrolyte imbalance, cardiac arrest and death. Between 19 and 30 percents of college-aged women demonstrate bulimic behavior – a truly epidemic proportion.

It is essential that counseling and treatment opportunities be made available to those college-aged individuals who may be struggling with an eating disorder.  On many campuses the psychiatric and medical support for this population of individuals suffering with the underlying emotional issues and physiological aspects of eating disorders is sorely lacking.

Without the proper treatment options and therapeutic intervention, eating disorders likely pose the greatest danger to this age group.  If you suspect you or a loved one, a classmate or a student may be suffering with an eating disorder, seeking help from a therapist of clinician specializing in treating these emotional disorders is paramount.  A treatment program that addresses the psychological factors and manages the physical components of the disorder through individualized care offers the greatest promise of lasting recovery.

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