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How to Help a Friend

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By Angie Best-Boss, Contributing Writer

If you are concerned about a friend or family member you suspect has an eating disorder, there are some things you can do to help. Mary Anne Knapp, LCSW, Clinical Social Worker at Penn State, make these suggestions:

  1. Set aside a time to talk privately and respectfully about your concerns in a caring and straightforward way. Try to pick a time when you won’t be distracted or pressured for time.
  2. Listen closely. Encourage the student to talk about the struggles they are experiencing adjusting to college or feeling good about themselves. Even though a student might not feel comfortable talking about their eating disorder behaviors they may be able to share their anxieties about doing well or their recent discouragements.
  3. Communicate your concerns with behavioral examples and in a non judgemental way. Avoid placing shame, blame or guilt for the student’s actions or attitudes. This will only lead the student to clam up.
  4. Explain that you think that these concerns may indicate a need for professional help. Offer to find out about services on campus and support your student by helping them to make an appointment and explore insurance coverage for private treatment. Offer to accompany them if it seems like this will help your son or daughter get started in treatment.
  5. Get help and support for yourself if you are struggling about how to proceed or find that you’re worried. Consider reading self help books such as Surviving an Eating Disorder: New Perspectives and Strategies for Family and Friends by Michele Siegel, Judith Brisman and Margot Weinshel.