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Universities urged to help eating-disorder students

By Judith Burns
BBC News education reporter

image captionWithout proper support, students with eating disorders may drop out of university, warns a charity

Many students with eating disorders struggle to get the treatment they need at university, warns a charity.

Without help, students with eating disorders risk dropping out of their studies warns Beat, which campaigns on behalf of sufferers.

A survey of just over 200 students with eating disorders found 32% were diagnosed after starting their course.

Almost a fifth (18%) said their condition had forced them to drop out of their degree course.

Another 39% had to take a break from their studies.

More than half (52%) of those surveyed said their university was not doing enough to support students with eating disorders or to identify those at risk and intervene to help them.

Risk factors

Nearly seven in 10 (69%) said they had struggled to access treatment while at university.

"We know there are a number of risk factors when young people go to university such as moving away from home and living independently, academic pressures, making new friends.

"This can be a very vulnerable time for some people", said a spokeswoman for Beat.

She said young lives were being disrupted at a crucial stage in their development by loss of education, damage to career prospects and in some cases, premature death.

The charity is calling on all student counselling services and student unions to be more aware of eating disorders and to improve the help on offer to sufferers.


A leaflet aimed at students outlines ways friends can support those with eating disorders and help get them the support they need.

The leaflet outlines signs of an eating disorder in a friend and how to approach someone about getting help.

"Be prepared for them to be angry, upset or say hurtful things.

"The illness affects how someone thinks and can prevent them from being able to truly believe anything is wrong," it advises.

The leaflet emphasises that no one chooses to get an eating disorder and that recovery is possible

One former student quoted by Beat said: "Not once at university had anybody questioned my health or given me any help or guidance.

"If I'd wanted to go and talk to someone I would have been completely at a loss where to go or who could help me.

"This resulted in my condition worsening and I ended up dropping out of uni completely."

The National Union of Students (NUS) said it was working to make support for mental health issues a higher priority in universities and colleges.

Vice-president Colum McGuire said: "For some the stress and new surroundings that come with leaving to go to university can trigger mental health issues."

"NUS is concerned about cuts to services that support students facing these challenges, particularly around poor referrals on to outside services, and whether those services themselves actually have adequate resources to help students."

A spokeswoman for the umbrella group Universities UK said universities, alongside student unions provided extensive support for students, "including welfare officers, advice centres, hall wardens and university counselling services.

"Every university offers student advice services, offering confidential and independent support and advice to students on a range of areas."

More on this story

  • Eating disorder patients 'stranded'

  • 'I couldn't save my medic daughter dying of anorexia'

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