Since 2015, the Eating Disorder Task Force at Cal State Fullerton has provided direct services and education consultations to students, faculty and staff seeking help for eating disorders.
A 2014 survey from Healthy Minds Network found that CSUF had a 10 percent eating disorder presence on campus, said Kevin Thomas, Psy. D., a licensed psychologist with CSUF’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in an email.
The Eating Disorder Task Force has been aiming to decrease that number.
“Today’s younger generation is growing up in a culture where comparison is innate,” said Sarah Lipson, assistant professor at the University of Michigan and associate director for the Healthy Minds Network. “Based on empirical evidence, the (eating disorder) prevalence rate on college campuses seems to be three times higher than the rate of treatment. It’s a huge lost opportunity for early treatment or intervention.”
An eating disorder is an illness fueled by “extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues,” according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Eating disorder symptoms can be found in the DSM-V, meaning they are both a psychological and physical illness.
CSUF tested three percent higher than the national average for eating disorders, according to the Healthy Minds Network study.
The Healthy Minds Network is a research team, “dedicated to improving the mental and emotional well-being of young people,” according to their website.
Lipson said in an email that the study is an online survey comprised of questions that deal with depression, anxiety and eating disorders. She said college students represent a vulnerable group to develop eating disorders because “the traditional college years (ages 18 to 22) coincide with age of onset for eating disorders.”
“Research has shown that eating disorders tend to more commonly occur when there are major life transitions,” Thomas said.
The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by an obsessive fear of weight gain and unrealistic body perceptions, bulimia nervosa, a disorder characterized by binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors like forced vomiting, and binge-eating disorder, a disorder characterized by losing control over eating habits and eating large amounts of food in one sitting.
Lipson said it tends to be much more prevalent in women than in men.
NEDA reports that severe eating disorder cases may result in abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, muscle loss and weakness, hair loss, dry skin and severe dehydration.
Thomas said the Eating Disorder Task Force consists of representatives from CSUF CAPS, Student Health and Titan Well, and uses data from national surveys to develop services for students.
The team provides assessment and evaluation, group and individual therapy and recommendations for future treatment or care, according to the CAPS website.
“The goals of the task force are to support students with direct services and provide appropriate referrals to enhance their psychological well-being and physical health, and to provide education consultation, awareness and outreach services to students, faculty and staff at CSUF,” Thomas said in an email.
Thomas said he and his team at the Student Wellness Center see students for various issues, including body image, disordered eating and emotional eating. However, the Healthy Minds survey found that national numbers show many students avoid help for mental health issues.
The survey reported that 35 percent of students nationwide said they don’t seek out help for mental health because they don’t have enough time. Forty-two percent also said they’d rather deal with their issues on their own and 39 percent brushed off stress as being “normal in college/graduate school.”
“We have events to tell students about services because students can be hesitant in seeking treatment,” Thomas said. “Our goal is to give (students) the best care between counseling, nutritional and medical aspects.”
In 2012, Cal State Fullerton received a grant for mental health services which gave Counseling and Psychological Services the opportunity to meet with and train faculty about dealing with mental health, said Leticia Gutierrez-Lopez, director of CAPS.
“Through the training, some faculty said we needed to give eating disorders more attention,” Gutierrez-Lopez said.
Task force members meet twice a week to discuss the needs of students they are seeing. Thomas said they are seeing more and more students speak up for help each month.
“We’re still so new, but we’re hoping we’re making a difference,” Thomas said.