In an effort to combat a steady rise in eating disorders among University of Wisconsin students in recent years, University Health Services is planning to hire new mental health staff to work with students.

UHS recently announced it will be hiring a psychologist and a psychiatrist to combat the increase in nutritional needs seen on campus, Danielle Oakley, director of Counseling and Consultation Services at UHS, said.

Oakley said employees at UHS have found not only has the number of students diagnosed with eating disorders increased, but so has the severity of these disorders. The level of illness’ students experience in college tends to be more severe, she said, adding this trend held for all mental illnesses.

Last year UHS expanded the hours of its nutritional services in part to meet the needs of students with eating disorders, Sarah Van Orman, UHS executive director, said, but she added she did not think this was effective enough.

UHS primary care providers medical monitoring and nutrition providers offer nutrition counseling, Van Orman said. UHS plans to strengthen its ability to provide for students with eating disorders, she said.

People with an eating disorder typically require treatment by a multi-disciplinary team which includes a medical doctor, a nutrition expert, a therapist and sometimes a psychiatrist, Van Orman said.

“In the past, UHS has had to refer students out in to the community for the long-term treatment required by these individuals,” Van Orman said. “It is our goal to be able to provide a more in-depth treatment for these individuals within UHS.”

She said an individual who will serve as a supporting position for individuals will be hired. He or she will help students figure out why they developed an eating disorder and what they can do to prevent them from reoccurring, she said.

Oakley said the increase in eating disorders is caused by a combination of the genetic component, a predisposition, the environment an individual lives in and the social messages they receive.

“What we are really hoping for is someone who can help us identify the level of care that is needed by the students,” Oakley said. “It is important to us that we are able to provide an apt level of care for students.”

Eating disorders are more prevalent in females, but over the years UHS has also seen a rise in the number of males with an eating disorder, Oakley said.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute for Mental Health, the average age of onset for an eating disorder is 19. This puts individuals in college at a greater risk for eating disorders, Oakley said.

In general, mental health issues students experience on campus are more severe than they normally would be as opposed to anywhere else,” she said.

Today students are more anxious, more depressed or suffer from more extreme eating disorders, Oakley said. Having additional staff to help determine how much care each student needs is something UHS can do to help this, she said.