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Sending young adults to college can be stressful for students and parents. Between newfound freedom, increased workloads, reduced structure, academic competition, increased social comparison, and the fact that they are often miles from home, life as an undergraduate student is largely uncharted territory.

Even before COVID-19 and the rise of associated mental health issues, researchers revealed startling insights into student mental health.

A study, led by researchers from the University of Oxfordfound that a third of first-year students deal with anxiety and depression at the start of the school year, and these numbers increase as the year progresses.

As if that weren’t enough, the college years also tend to intersect with the onset of most mental health issues. According to a study published in the General Psychiatry Archives. And some of the most dangerous and prevalent mental health issues on college campuses are eating disorders.

According to a study published in Nutrients.

Navigating Mental Health Disorders

Trying to help young adults find their first real taste of independence — especially if you’re miles apart — can be a daunting task for parents. The pandemic has exacerbated many mental health issues, but it has also helped make mental health awareness a more mainstream topic. Now there are more resources for parents and students and less stigma around mental health diagnoses, so neither those with eating disorders nor their loved ones have to struggle alone.

Additionally, most people with eating disorders also struggling with other mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression or ADHD. Dealing with a mental health issue is rarely easy, and doing so in an unfamiliar environment – ​​often without a proper diagnosis – can be particularly difficult. By becoming familiar with the early behavioral, emotional, and physical warning signs of eating disorders, parents can better spot students’ problematic relationships with food and make early intervention a priority before symptoms become uncontrollable.

Signs of trouble

Recognizing a student’s eating disorder can be particularly difficult, especially when they are away from school. Until it has progressed significantly, someone with an eating disorder can be quite good at hiding it from others.

Although different eating disorders have different symptoms, some common general signs that may suggest a problem include:

• Increased interest in diets

• Excessive monitoring of food intake or weight

• Frequent negative comments about body image

• Bad eating habits, such as skipping meals or gorging

• Rigid or excessive exercise programs

• Significant weight loss or gain

• Social withdrawal

• Changes in mood or behavior

Early intervention

Early intervention can play a vital role in the effective treatment of an eating disorder, but many families struggle to find a treatment program that allows a student to continue their education while taking steps to improve their health.

“A delay in the treatment of eating disorders can negatively impact the likelihood of recovery and increase the duration of illness, prolonging suffering unnecessarily,” said Heather Russo, clinical director of Alsana, a national community food recovery that serves adult clients of all genders through in-person and virtual programs. “Parents of college students need to be aware of the risks and triggers young adults face during these vulnerable years so they can help address issues and warning signs as they arise.”

Learn about eating disorder treatment options that can help your student develop a healthier relationship with food at