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22/10/2013 11:21 BST

Eating Disorders At University: Students' Health At Risk From Lack Of Vital Support

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Eating Disorders At University: Students' Health At Risk From Lack Of Support, Long Waiting Times

Services for vulnerable students suffering from eating disorders need to be "seriously improved", as young people are left waiting up to 12 months for help, The Huffington Post UK can reveal.

One female suffering from a disorder was sent away from her GP and told there was "little help" available as her BMI was normal, despite being at serious risk of a heart attack.

Several students who have shared their experiences of care at university have exposed a worrying trend of long waits and minimal support, resulting in many being hospitalised as their conditions worsened.

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A recent survey conducted by eating disorder charity Beat found nearly seven in 10 (69%) said they had faced difficulties accessing treatment while at university. Just under one in five (18%) said that had dropped out of their studies because of their eating disorder, while nearly two fifths (39%) said they had taken a break.

Kerry, a student at a university in Surrey, was on the waiting list at her local GP for 12 months. The 23-year-old was eventually forced to leave university as she was too unwell to study.

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Services for vulnerable students at risk of developing eating disorders "seriously need to be improved", according to one student, Leah. The 21-year-old, who was a child nursing student at a London university, said she believed if someone at her institution could have spotted the warning signs "I would still be a happy, carefree person".

"After nine months at university I came home for a weekend and never went back.

"Not once at university had anybody questioned my health or given me any help or guidance," Leah says. "If I had wanted to go and talk to someone I would have been completely at a loss of where to go or who could help me.

"I did have a personal tutor but they have so many students that you don't really get to know them and they often don't really know who you are either."

Elizabeth, who says her illness is now "stable", suffered from an eating disorder throughout university.

"I was told there was little help available as my BMI was in normal range," she says. "I was told support was only given to people who were chronically underweight. Therefore, I went away believing I did not deserve help and was 'fat'. From this time onwards I got worse, I lost a lot of weight and became physically very unwell, ending up in hospital on numerous occasions (and still no help was offered) even though my health got so bad I was at serious risk of a heart attack at any point."

A spokesman for Beat said: "As the survey shows, if support and care for eating disorder sufferers is not provided, it can lead to significant issues such as dropping out or taking a break which has a financial, emotional and educational impact on a young person's future.

"Young lives are being disrupted at crucial stages in their development with loss of education, hindering career prospects and premature death."

Norman Lamb, the government's care and support minister, said the NHS was looking to reduce waiting times and improve access to mental health services. "We take the issue of eating disorders, especially among young people, very seriously, and we are investing £54m into improving access to mental health treatments for children and young people," he said.

"I am also determined that we get to a point where mental health is treated with as much importance as physical health in the NHS and this includes looking at how long people have to wait for treatment.

"NHS England is currently reviewing access to mental health services, including how long people have to wait. I will expect them to use the findings to help drive improvements in the treatment for people with eating disorders."

If you are 25 or under, you can call the Beat Youthline on 0845 634 7650 or email fyp@b-eat.co.uk. If you would like a call back, send a the text message 'call back' to 07786 20 18 20.