I Went to the AU Counseling Center for Help—They Failed Me
CONTENT WARNING: Eating Disorders and Mentions of Suicide
I spent my first semester of college completely debilitated by anorexia.
The stress that came with being a freshman in college, coupled with the fact that I was nowhere near stable in my newfound recovery efforts, made it easy for me to fall back into old habits. By November, I was borderline underweight, and could feel how my heart was beginning to fail. Simply standing up caused it to spike upwards of 160 beats per minute. It didn’t have to reach this point though. You see, I reached out for help in mid-September. The problem was, American University was unprepared to help me.
In September of 2019, I walked into the Counseling Center. This is a huge accomplishment, as those with eating disorders are notorious for forgoing help. We believe that we aren’t “sick enough” to seek treatment, not “skinny enough” to restore our weight, and not “worthy enough” to deserve any kind of help. I used every ounce of mental fortitude that I had in my shrunken frame to make my way into the Counseling Center, and when I got there, they told me their next appointment was in a month. I asked if there was anything sooner and they told me no. I scheduled the appointment and left.
A month passed, and so did my appointment. I did not show up. Over those four weeks, my eating disorder had taken full root, and I had lost any desire to recover. My only desire was to become as thin as one could possibly be. Right before Halloween, though, I had a bout of courage. I had just found out that I would be moving out of my toxic living situation, and for the first time in months, I felt that maybe I had a future at AU. After hours of mental anguish, I decided that I would go to crisis hours at the Counseling Center. They essentially told me that, unless I was suicidal and had a plan to pull it off, my problems were not enough of a “crisis” for them to deal with.
I eventually found a therapist and began recovery for a second time, but not before I had severely damaged my body, some ways in which I may never fully repair it. I still worry about how much damage I did to my heart, to my kidneys, to my reproductive system. My hair was falling out, my nails were brittle, I had scabs on my face that took months to heal. I had become a shell of the person I was, and AU could have prevented all of this had they been prepared to intervene.
The grad student who met with me during crisis hours seemed to stop caring as soon as I mentioned that I was not suicidal. Any licensed therapist trained in eating disorder intervention would have understood that, while I wasn’t suicidal, I was still killing myself. Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness, claiming one life for every five people who have it. That is a 20% mortality rate. Beyond this, 25% of college men and 32.6% of college women suffer from one. If a large percentage of students on this campus suffer from a disease with a 20% mortality rate, why then is AU so unprepared to treat them?
I am not only using this article as a forum to tell my own story, but am also using it as a call to action—I challenge every person seeking or holding a position in the American University Student Government to add these points to their platform, and to actively push for them if they should assume office.
No student should have to wait more than a week to get an appointment at the Counseling Center.
All Counseling Center employees should be trained in eating disorder intervention.
The Counseling Center should hire a licenced therapist trained in eating disorder intervention as soon as possible: this therapist should be available during all crisis hours.
The aforementioned therapist should hold regularly scheduled support groups so that any student who needs recovery support can obtain those services regardless of one-on-one appointment availability.
AU can and should do better. What happened to me should be an aberration, but in my heart, I know that it’s probably not. I sought help numerous times, and each time I was denied it. Had I not found help on my own, I would be dead right now, and American University would be to blame. Eating disorders are a disease, but they are very much survivable. I can attest to that—I am a survivor of them. I only survived because I had an amazing support system though. I only wish I could’ve found that support closer to home, at AU’s own Counseling Center.