Mental health conversations captured in the news

Image courtesy of Archives and Special Collections

Image courtesy of Archives and Special Collections

BY EMILY BERNSTEIN ’18

“1,800 women is a hell of a lot of problems,” said Professor Suarez-Galban, in a Choragos-sponsored discussion group among faculty and students in November 1969. The discussion, which began as a dialogue on campus drug use, ultimately turned to the availability of counseling services at Mount Holyoke, or the lack thereof.

During this same conversation, Professor Charles Trout supported bringing more mental health services to campus, but attributed this need to what he called female “confusions about careers and marriage.”

Articles like this from the late 1960s are some of the earliest mentions of mental health in the paper’s archives. While the prevalence of hard drugs sparked much of the drive for psychiatric and counseling services, students continued to demand mental health support well into the 1970s and beyond.

Although counseling was offered, there was just one service provider for the entire campus. This did change over time, according to current Counseling Service Director Beth Feeney. “When I first came, there was a clinician who had been here for almost 30 years,” she said, “and it used to be a very small department within health services, and then student demand for mental health services increased exponentially over the years.”

And this service continues to grow. While the College previously offered each student just eight sessions of counseling per semester at the health center, the policy has recently been changed to allow students unlimited counseling appointments.

While the demand for counseling and psychiatric services was covered in the school news several times, specific mental health issues faced by students were seldom mentioned. However, one mental health issue that was often revisited by the Mount Holyoke News (formerly Choragos) was eating disorders.

Eating disorders were featured heavily throughout the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. The April 5, 2001 issue of Mount Holyoke News featured not just one, but five articles around food, eating disorders, and body image in a two-page Health and Science spread. Where was this emphasis on eating disorders coming from?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 0.9 percent of women experience anorexia during their lifetime (compared to 0.3 percent of men), 1.5 percent of women experience bulimia during their lifetime (compared to 0.5 percent of men) and 3.5 percent of women experience binge eating disorder during their lifetime (compared to 2.0 percent of men). Perhaps because Mount Holyoke is a historically women’s college there is a higher rate of eating disorders here than at co-ed institutions, and thus the Mount Holyoke News’ coverage of eating disorders stemmed from such a trend.

“If it’s all or almost all women here,” said Feeney, “then we would see a higher prevalence, but that doesn’t mean that students at Mount Holyoke have more eating disorders, it’s that we have more women.” So it’s possible that the heavier coverage of this specific mental health issue compared to others may have simply been pertinent due to the campus population.

However, the coverage of eating disorders tapers off in the last decade or so. This may seem unusual given Mount Holyoke’s continued status as a historically women’s college, but research may actually support this shift. During the 80s and 90s, rates of anorexia and bulimia increased, according to NEDA, but have since plateaued for the most part. Even still, rates of “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders” have increased, and there is no data on the prevalence of binge eating disorder over time.

The answer may lie in the statistics specific to the Mount Holyoke College population. The College switched from paper to electronic medical records in 2012, allowing clinicians better and more accurate access to data. Feeney explained that “We’re seeing fewer eating disorders. It used to be a real focus for us maybe 10, 15 years ago. Now, I don’t think that we hear about it as much.” 

In fact, eating disorders are not even in the top five issues students present with upon intake. According to Anna Hope, a clinician in the College Counseling Service, “the top five [student mental health concerns] are anxiety, depressed mood, fatigue, low motivation and poor concentration. And that’s been pretty consistent over the years.”

 

Additional reporting by Lindsey McGinnis ’18

 

MHN 100 is a bi-weekly column celebrating the newspaper’s 100 years of student journalism. Archival copies of Mount Holyoke News can be found at compass.fivecolleges.edu.

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