Dr. Kimberly Dennis is the Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Calling All Colleges: Steps to Improve Emotional Health of Students on Campus

According to a recent national survey, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” the emotional health of college freshmen declined significantly during recent years, with the number of students saying that their “emotional health was above average,” falling from 64 to 52 percent. This is the same downtrend I am seeing at Timberline Knolls in the women I treat on campus.

People have spent significantly less time interacting face to face with other human beings with technology today, and this has had a deep impact on peoples' hearts and souls. We're over-connected electronically and under-connected to the people around us.

Because of this, colleges today have more responsibility to step up to ensure the well-being of their students and they need to help stop this severe decline in mental health with five steps that could make a difference for students on their campuses.

Step one: Provide education on campus. Students need to know the effects of their weakened emotional state because as mental health declines, dangerous behaviors can increase.

Step two: Increase the support for accessible on-campus counseling centers.

Step three: Conduct aggressive awareness campaigns.

Step four: Staff on-campus counseling centers with experts who can diagnose early – or work directly with outside experts who can provide immediate and individualized help.

Step five: Understand the fragile state of many students, especially college freshmen, so that proactive measures and support are planned.

Many times college-aged women cope with their new surroundings through using alcohol, other substances, engaging in eating disorders, and getting depressed and/or suicidal. And we’ve seen an increasing number of college students with higher and higher levels of acuity, or the severity of their illness, before they get to residential care.

Colleges also need to be held responsible for the behaviors that take place on and around their campuses and should better uphold boundaries around underage drinking. They can also help by establishing sober dorms on campus, as well as providing support groups on campus that practice the 12-step methodology such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous and Eating Disorders Anonymous.

Access to information and help can be key in the battle against depression, eating disorders and alcoholism. Lifelong recovery is possible, but only if all of those in the mental health and education fields work together to share resources and information to better help those in need.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Timberline Knolls Responds to Washington Post Article on Food Addiction

A recent Washington Post column introduces readers to 53-year-old Michael Prager, a 5’10” man weighing 210 lbs, and discusses the disease that took over his life: an addiction to food. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the American Psychiatric Association’s guide of accepted psychological diagnoses, food addiction is not a recognized psychiatric disorder. But many eating disorder professionals, including myself, still view food addiction as an illness, not just a weakness in judgment, and appeal for its inclusion in the DSM-V Manual, due out in 2013.

Many times diagnostic restrictions, such as not including food addiction, limit access to treatment for those who need it most. If included in the DSM, food addiction would be legitimized and treatment would be covered by many insurance providers. It would also help treatment professionals work to accurately diagnose problems and provide appropriate treatment.

We need to treat these serious diseases whether they are listed in the DSM or not. But not being listed can make getting access to treatment difficult. At Timberline Knolls we are able to help many women and girls obtain recovery from unhealthy relationships with food, body and exercise who may not ever be diagnosed with a formal eating disorder in many other settings. But it is a serious obstacle when food addiction is not included in the DSM Manual, and we must fight for its acceptance as a real mental health disease. Stories like the Washington Post article echo the vital need for this.

Despite not being listed, many mental health professionals recognize and treat food addiction as they would treat other addictions such as drugs, alcohol and gambling. We see food addiction and treat it every day at Timberline Knolls. Most commonly we see it in the form of anorexia and bulimia, but we also treat a fair amount of binge eating disorders and other unspecified eating-related disorders. Many times this happens with adolescents and women who seek treatment primarily for depression or other addictions, and don’t realize overeating is a part of their disease.

Most people have difficulty seeing the impact of an unhealthy relationship with food, eating, exercise, or their bodies fully on their own. If not identified or treated during the early stages, eating disorders can become chronic, debilitating and even life-threatening. Professional help can lead to a greater sense of peace and manageability, and can save your life.