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Navigating College with Depression and Anorexia

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 40 million adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder. Among them, 75 percent experience their first episode of anxiety by age 22.

Dr. Joel Lazar, a licensed psychologist and chair of the Public Education and Media Committee of the San Diego Psychological Association, confirmed that college students have a higher risk for depression than any other age group with the exception of elders.

“Teen years are stressful because, developmentally, it’s a time of insecurity and transition from childhood to adulthood,” said Lazar. “At this point, individuals have not formed a secure sense of identity.”

A sophomore at Point Loma Nazarene University, 18-year-old Ivey Merrill has known the downsides of depression for a while.

“I am currently in treatment,” she said. “I have been diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety, and anorexia nervosa. I take medication, but I don’t follow a behavioral program.”

Merrill explained that her condition is rooted within her biology. “Medication helps the most because, in my case, [depression] is genetic.”

According to Dr. Lazar, depression makes the already stressful student lifestyle even harder. In fact, depression can easily interfere with academics.

“Energy goes down and so does motivation,” Lazar said. “[Students] become more forgetful and their concentration is affected.”

This is not the case for Merrill. Despite having insomnia, a common consequence of depression, in addition to sleeping only four or five hours per night, Merrill maintains that she is able “to get things done.”

“I am exhausted all the time,” she said. “But when school ends early, I can go home and take a nap.”

Merrill is extremely open about the struggles of her condition, and she does not refrain from using social media as a platform to share her thoughts and give advice to peers who may share similar experiences.

“Sometimes I have felt a little stigmatized. A student gave me feedback about how what I publish online could affect me professionally,” said Merrill. “Some people might think negatively of me because I am not exactly quiet about my opinions.”

Although she deems PLNU a welcoming environment, she said she sometimes feels invisible at school.

“For the most part, people don’t talk to me. My resting face is probably a bit intimidating. People aren’t sure if I exist, but I exist,” said Merrill laughingly.

She tried to take advantage of the counseling services the university offers through the Wellness Center, but she was not impressed.

“I think they tried to help me but just misunderstood me,” said Merrill. “They had me talk to a dietician and because I was vegan, they saw that as a restriction – which is an anorexia term for self-starvation. They sent me to UCSD for an outpatient program.”

Merrill had already tried the program in 2013 and was not happy with the decision.

“I thought, ‘I am not leaving school for this program.’ While I was in the waiting room [at UCSD] I saw a girl I met in the psych hospital when I was 14,” recalled Merrill. “She was still in treatment at nineteen. She still hadn’t been able to finish high school. I felt like they were just trying to convince me to do it, but I didn’t want to end up like that.”

The Point tried to contact the Wellness Center, but because of the staff’s workload, they said they could not consent to an interview at this time.

When discussing anorexia, Dr. Lazar described it as an “overwhelmingly female disorder because of the pressure society puts on women to be thin. These girls sometimes feel like they are out of control, and they want to be more in control by deciding what to eat. The irony is that their habit will become out of control.”

To students who are struggling with any type of mental disorder or psychological concern, Merrill says, “Hey look, this girl is ok with talking about her mental illness. And you, too, shouldn’t be scared to ask for help.”

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Ombretta Di Dio

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