Bringing awareness to Brandeis
In light of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, people on campus came together to focus on health resources
Over the past few days, you may have seen the NEDAwareness hash-tags online and body-positive messages, or even participated in a social media campaign to raise awareness for Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW). EDAW is a national movement sponsored and organized by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) on the last week of every February. This year, it was held from Feb. 23 through March 1 and focused on improving the public understanding of eating disorders through various themes on social media.
Eating disorders are largely considered one of the most dangerous mental illnesses and according to NEDA’s website, “In the United States alone, 30 million people will be impacted by an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime.” These eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating and aeating disorders not otherwise specified.
Several events took place on campus to promote EDAW. On Wednesday evening, Walden Behavioral Care, a local eating disorder center, came to campus and screened a film to generate discussion on how men’s masculinity is influenced by the media.
On Thursday, Amy Scobie-Carroll spoke on a panel with a recovered individual and they both discussed eating disorder signs, symptoms and causes. The new student-run organization Active Minds hosted the events. According to their club webpage, Active Minds aims to educate the Brandeis population about mental health and dispel the misconceptions associated with mental health disorders.
Despite impacting millions of people in the U.S., eating disorders are widely stigmatized and not fully recognized as a potentially life-threatening mental illness.
The lack of awareness for such an alarming illness is what inspired Amy Scobie-Carroll to take on her position as the eating disorder specialist at Brandeis’s Psychological Counseling Center (PCC) this past fall. Scobie-Carroll works with students who are struggling with eating disorders, disordered eating or body image issues.
In an interview with the Justice, Scobie-Carroll touched on why eating disorder awareness became important to her.
“I want to help move eating disorders from the old sort of view that they are somehow ‘a choice or that they’re not a real illness’ into helping them be truly appreciated as illnesses that really [need] and [deserve] research and help,” she explained.
Scobie-Caroll is not alone in her work at Brandeis to promote eating disorder awareness. Carly Rosenbaum ’16 has worked closely with Brandeis’ chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon, as vice president of programming to promote awareness. Through their philanthropy, the sorority is officially partnered with the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).
Although unrecognized at Brandeis, Delta Phi Epsilon works to spread awareness about eating disorders among their sorority and to the general Brandeis community. Each semester, they hold an ANAD vigil, and for the first time, this year they had a virtual campaign for ANAD to promote Eating Disorder Awareness week.
The vigil is an intimate experience for the sorority. “It’s a candlelight vigil, and we talk about what an eating disorder is—people share their personal stories. It’s very emotional and personal. Every vigil we have is different, depending on who speaks and who runs it,” Rosenbaum said.
Their virtual campaign for ANAD this past week consisted of several hash-tags and posts on the sororities Facebook and Instagram accounts that promoted themes like “makeup-less Monday” to encourage affirmative body messages.
As seen in the virtual campaign on social media, a crucial aspect of Eating Disorder Awareness Week is promoting positive body image. Negative body image and dissatisfaction is a common cause of eating disorders because extreme and frequent dieting can act as the trigger that sets off an eating disorder.
Scobie-Caroll recommends— in terms of helping people— that “if you suspect that a friend or someone you love has an eating disorder, it’s a really good idea to express your concern. A lot of times people dance around it or they don’t confront the person. It is a good idea to express your concern from a very supportive standpoint.”
In addition to her own private practice in Brookline, Scobie-Caroll runs the Living In Recovery support group in the PCC.
Recovery can be one of the most difficult parts for many people struggle with an eating disorder. The process is a long one that can involve relapses and requires consistent professional and familial support.
“I really enjoy helping people recover, because it is really wonderful to see people be able to shift their belief systems and improve their ability to cope with emotion and change their behaviors and love their bodies more. It’s a very rewarding field for that reason,” Scobie-Carroll said.
Eating disorders are an especially concerning issue on college campuses because, according to NEDA’s website, eating disorders are most prevalent in young adults. Eating disorders don’t discriminate and can affect people of all genders, races and socioeconomic backgrounds.
It’s difficult to estimate just how many college and university students are impacted by eating disorders because many individuals do not admit to having them.
“If people on campus make an effort to talk about eating disorders and reduce the stigma around it, ... then that will become part of the fabric of the Brandeis community. That it’s okay and important to talk about because it’s about staying well. It’s really part of the philosophy or the general feeling of the community at Brandeis that we want to promote talking about difficult topics and bringing things into our consciousness,” Scobie-Caroll explained.
Rosenbaum also feels that more needs to be done on college campuses to promote this issue and dispel the stigma surrounding it. “I don’t think there could ever be enough. Until the stigma is gone, there will never be enough done and there’s no way to tell what is enough.”
There are many resources available on campus to students, faculty and staff who need information about eating disorders.
In addition to the PCC, the Health Center offers professional care and treatment of eating disorders. There is also a nutritionist available on campus to the Brandeis community.
“I think that Brandeis does this very well, and I hope it’s true on other campuses-that there are treatment providers available for help,” Scobie-Caroll explained.
“In my work at Brandeis, one really pleasant surprise is that I’ve had people come to me who really want help and who have the courage to recognize that they are struggling. I’ve been really pleased with the number of people that come in and say, ‘this doesn’t feel right,” Scobie-Caroll said.
Rosenbaum expressed a goal very similar to Eating Disorder Awareness Week’s and Scobie-Carolls’s, in which spreading awareness is pivotal. “We want people to be aware that this is an issue, what to look for in their friends, what to look for in themselves, know how to get help and know that they’re not alone- ultimately that’s the goal…it will always be something that we feel is important to bring here”