During my freshman year of college, I was unaware of an eating disorder. Leaving high school with an unhealthy relationship with food, as my body continued to grow and develop, I refused to believe anything could go wrong. It turned out that uprooting my life and throwing myself headfirst into campus activities led me deeper into my mental illness. I took the subway every day to campus, passing advertisements of young, thin white women smiling or writhing to show off a new product. Once at school, I sat between well-meaning classmates who complained about the calories in the pizza they had while drunk, trying to connect about this ‘secret crime’ that we have all committed to dare to nourish our bodies. Between classes, I would meet friends in the library and watch them study for hours without stopping to eat. During my breaks, I would head for the bathroom, only to be greeted by girls who only complimented each other by pointing out their own insecurities.
Self-mockery and disordered eating habits covered the campus like a thick smog that suffocated me. It is normal to spend hours examining yourself. Friends gathering around a table, eating while simultaneously complaining about the horrible “15 freshman”, got me going. The biggest learning opportunities in my freshman year had nothing to do with my major but everything to do with my body, my behaviors and my mindset. Absorbing any other information was getting harder as my brain struggled to balance the work I had to do with the meager energy I was giving it. By the time midterms had started, I was struggling to get up the hill to class and was leaning against cars to keep from collapsing. During introductions, I would forget what I was saying in mid-sentence, too nervous with my eyes on me and my body. Often I knew I had the knowledge and critical thinking skills to talk about a topic, but kept quiet because I knew I would sound scattered and tired rather than strong and articulate.
It was so frustrating to lose so many experiences and opportunities, and it was even more frustrating that no one seemed to notice how much it hurt me. College should be a chance to grow as a person – it shouldn’t drag you into your bad habits any further. In my moments of clarity, I implored support from the McGill Student Welfare Center, only to have my struggles dismissed as part and parcel of the college experience. At a doctor’s appointment in October 2019, I was told that my weight prevented me from getting help through the wellness center for an eating disorder. My first psychiatry appointment was canceled that morning and I was pressured to cancel my rescheduled appointment once the secretaries learned I was on a waiting list for private care. This is not just a case of societal pressures bleeding into an institution; McGill has completely failed to adequately help its students struggling with eating disorders. Over a million Canadians have been diagnosed with some form of eating disorder. Statistically, eating disorders remain the deadliest group of mental illnesses, with suicidal ideation affecting 10-35% of people diagnosed. There was one 15.3% increase in the incidences of eating disorders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which McGill psychiatric services are not equipped to handle. They are understaffed, overworked and undertrained manage so many students with such serious concerns. Unable to remedy these shortcomings, the Student Wellness Hub simply sends its struggling students to private clinics and treatment programs at often unattainable prices. The administration claims that through the Wellness CenterMcGill students will have access to dietitians, doctors, nurses and psychiatrists, but most students can attest to the near impossibility of getting a appointment. After two years in a pandemic that has shone a spotlight on personal health and well-being like never before, why hasn’t McGill put more priority on the care of its students? Even the recently reinstated Eating Disorders Resource and Support Center is entirely managed and funded by SSMU, following the complete defunding of McGill its own program in 2017.
After more than two years of active recovery and the privilege of private treatment, I feel safer to participate in campus life. Yet I have to ask, what about those of us who are not so lucky – those who cannot afford private care, who adopt disordered eating habits, who are constantly redirected from Wellness Hub, and who think they’re the only ones struggling at McGill? Will McGill University ever put aside its business ventures and invest in the mental health of its students? I hope that if we continue to call on McGill to provide more funding to the Wellness Hub and expand its mental health resources, we can tackle the smoldering eating disorder culture on our campus. If you think you don’t know someone with an eating disorder, start looking critically at the campus around you and talk with your friends. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help. Don’t forget that there is Resources for you, virtual and local, and you don’t have to feel alone in this fight.