BY TESS WILLIAMS
The state of Delaware has taken the initiative to raise more recognition for eating disorders by declaring the week of Feb. 27 to March 5 as Eating Disorder Awareness and Prevention Week.
Since eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with an estimated 30 million Americans currently suffering from this illness, both Linda Santoro, a clinical psychology expert and Sharon Collison, a registered dietitian and instructor of clinical nutrition at the university, are taking this change as a huge win.
“I’m a huge advocate for eating disorder awareness and prevention and resources for recovery so I’m very happy it was passed,” Collison said.
The resolution was approved on Jan. 26, and with Feb. 27 only three weeks away, organizations like the National Alliance for Eating Disorders are already planning events to bring awareness and resources to the Newark and university communities.
On Feb. 25, the National Alliance of Eating Disorders will host a marathon of 24 free, online seminars on various topics surrounding eating disorders. The organization will host an online rally for awareness the next day, Feb. 26, which will feature motivational speakers, celebrities and more.
Collision’s personal goal for the awareness week is to promote a better understanding of the most common eating disorder: binge eating disorder.
“[People who have eating disorders are] not comfortable in their bodies and we’re trying to bring awareness to binge eating disorder in particular because there’s just so many people who silently suffer and we want to let them know that help is available,” Collison said.
The university’s Student Health Services and the Center for Counseling and Student Development both provide resources for those struggling with eating disorders. Student Health Services coordinates with nutritionists, dietitians, nurses and physicians on-campus as well as doctors and treatment centers off-campus that provide long-term care. The counseling center further provides individual and group counseling for disordered eating.
Collison and Santoro are additionally hoping that the week of awareness will not only provide the community with resources, but help those struggling or those who know someone who is struggling to find comfort in the support groups they offer. Although the resources are available, the stigma surrounding eating disorders often stands in the way of sufferers getting the help they need.
“There’s still a, sadly, shame about mental health issues so those struggling are not as comfortable being in a group,” Santoro said. “However, it really helps because people that struggle with an eating disorder really can appreciate and understand what other people are going through in a way that nobody else exactly can.”
There are several free, clinician-run support groups that take place at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Wilmington. There are also online support groups for individuals recovering from or currently experiencing an eating disorder and family and friends of individuals affected by eating disorders.
Santoro, Collison and other clinicians are holding a presentation on Feb. 28 in the Star Health Science Complex from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., to teach the public about signs, symptoms and treatment options for eating disorders.
Additionally, Collision hopes to establish a permanent support group at the Star Health Science Complex, which will meet every Wednesday night, as soon as possible. Santoro and Collision said that having a support group on campus will encourage more university students to attend.
“We thought that the Newark area would be a great place to capture college students and to be an easy access point for people coming out of state too because there aren’t a lot of these services and they’re definitely not free services,” Santoro said.
Collision and Santoro said that eating disorders are long-lasting once they begin. Patients require long-term treatment from physicians, psychologists, dietitians and therapists. When sufferers don’t have access to these resources or feel that they don’t fit into what an eating disorder looks like, the longevity of the illness increases.
With the awareness that this designated week has brought, the two hope that some of the stigmatization around what eating disorders look like and the shame that those suffering from them have can be alleviated with time.
“I’ve been in the field for a while and I’ve seen things changing for the better in terms of treatment being more inclusive and people recognizing that eating disorders are not just present in thin, white, financially well off females,” Santoro said.