Is it possible for a school to have 'an anorexia problem?'(26 Posts)
My friend was talking the other day about looking for all girl private schools for her DD at secondary level & she mentioned one particular school in our city, then another friend jumped in & said that the school had a massive anorexia problem & there's no way she would send her DD there.
Now I have zero experience of eating disorders, but I'd always thought that they were classed as a mental health disorder & were not 'catching'. I assume that the other friend didn't mean that anorexia could actually be transmitted between girls but rather there was a culture of abnormal relationships with food at the school that could influence teenage girls and their food choices.
Could the friend have been mistaken or do some schools in anyone's experience have this kind of thing? Is it worth dismissing such a school as a choice if it does (its a day school not boarding)?
Mine did. I wouldn't send a teenage girl within a hundred miles of it.
It isn't unheard of, but it is more often confined to a particular part of the school at any one time, or a particular cohort.
It tends to manifest amongst perfectionists and high achievers, so the girls compare themselves to others and think 'well I can do better than that'.
For the most part, they won't have actual eating disorders outside of the school environment, but for the few who are susceptible to genuine eating disorders, it is something to avoid if possible.
In my experience...
Yes, it is possible for schools to develop an unhealthy food culture amongst pupils. It is very very hard to control as an adult in charge once in the situation. Girls (we are talking here about girls but it happens with boys too), can feed off each other and develop issues at varying degrees- from the genuinely very ill to the copy cat cases (still ill, although often to a lesser extent)
I wouldn't write a school off because of it though.
As it is almost always confined to specific groups of friends, occasionally year groups. And doesn't spread between years- who often have very little contact with each other anyway.
If my (fictional) daughter ended up in a year with a problem I would move her very quickly if I thought for one moment she would be affected BUT I don't think you can predict it before you know anything about the specific cohort she will be in.
Anorexia is really dangerous and often underplayed isn't it? I get very paranoid when my girls get a bit skinny. I think I would be trying to find out more about the school.
One of DD's best friends had serious issues with dieting and her little sister is now anorexic and frequently hospitalised. I think it's easy for a culture of food issues to become the norm.
Yes it happens.
but it can happen to any high achieving girls' school.
When I was at school there was a group of friends in my year who talked each other into a passing phase of anorexia. One had it seriously, as did her 3 older sisters.
It can and does occasionally occur at most academic girls schools.
A friend who is a child psychiatrist decided not to send her DDs to a particular school after noting, over a period of time, that the majority of in-patients in the anorexia unit were from that school.
So yes, it can be possible. Obviously it may well not be a permanent thing - a school can gain a reputation quite quickly that it may take many years to shed - but a school (typically, though not always, a girls' school with a large proportion of high-achieving, perfectionist pupils) can go through a period where it is significantly more common than average, simply through a 'subculture' amongst the pupils.
Isolated cases can occur pretty much anywhere, however - it would be very hard to find a school that has never experienced the problem.
I can see how a group of girls could spur eachother on to lose weight and restrict food. A high-pressure environment without appropriate pastoral support might not help either. I can also see how a PE teacher or similar could have a negative effect on girls self-esteem/body image - certainly our PE teachers at school picked on girls if they felt they were overweight and told them they needed to diet.
There was a case in the press when I was at school of a nearby private all girls school with a record number of incidents of anorexia/bulimia/mixture of the two.
In my opinion, if the pupil is not successfully supported by the school then the problem could be exacerbated. Equally, if there is poorly modelled examples of healthy attitudes to school (influential teachers body shaming, sharing diet opinions to the students) I would imagine that would contribute towards it too. I have known teachers to be pulled up on fat shaming, and talking about being on extreme diets in front of students.
My DDs year had someone come in to talk to them about self harm. It was news to most of them but afterwards a big group of them were at it (egged on by said talk) and it spread like wildfire. DD said it wasn't genuine but some of the girls were loving the attention and seeing the adult hysteria. Petered out now as they moved on to something else. Yes these things can become "a craze". A dangerous one.
It can also happen to boys; mental health issues are on the increase and this can be one thing that they also use to try to regain some control.
I would be concerned by this. On the other hand I went to a mixed comp way back when. 3 of the girls in our group had eating disorders. They were unable to talk about it and strongly denied having issues. It's quite an isolating disease and there was no way they were spurring each other on. The rest of us did not go on to develop EDs.
Attention seeking girls with esteem issues will look for any opportunity to manipulate the group norms and make themselves a centre of attention. There was a cohort at DDs school who used weight to do that but they also used pretty much every difference, hair colour, culture etc. In sixth form they colonised a corner of the common room and hissed snake at anyone not deemed cool enough to sit there. The rowing club had to introduce a system of weigh ins because some were using the slightly extreme training regime as a diet aid. Now one of them has one of those wellness blogs
another way of seeking attention Unfortunately she is a little late to the Courgetti and Avocado bandwagon.
That is not in any way to underestimate anorexia as a genuine mental illness often arising from genuine neurological differences as well as psychological problems but I am sure there are various causes and manifestations and it can certainly be a tool of peer pressure and manipulation
An unhealthy environment can certainly trigger disordered thinking. I can see how teenagers who are constantly monitoring their eating and weight and posting 'thinspiration' on the internet (tumblr is awful for this) could encourage others.
Yes but ime it is rarely about food. If you have a culture that belittles or dimishes the self worth and self esteem of girls then you will see an increase in mental health issues including anorexia, self harm and suicide attempts.
You'll also get more instances of self harm,
Culture plays a large role in the onset on Anorexia so I would think if there were a number of popular students suffering with the condition, I could see how they could act as role models which could triggering Anorexia in other vunerable girls. Anorexia has the highest fatality of all the mental disorders and it is more common in girls with perfectionist tendencies.
My girls school banned the sponsored 24 hr fasts tht were all the rage 25 years ago, after a number of almost (what we now call) pro-ana poems and pieces and the school magazine and several diagnoses of anorexia in the sixth form.
It is a danger in competitive, high-acheiving environments, particularly all-female ones.
A school nurse I know well often said that there is never just one case. A school can go for years without (if a good school with excellent pastoral care) and then they'll be three+ at once. Never just the one.
@whatwouldrondo brilliant how to put people down
suicide is another mental health concern that tends to run in clusters.
so yes it's possible, but as others have pointed out it's due to a complex set of contributing conditions.
One of my DD's school is doing an "anti-perfection" drive at the moment, aimed at kids and parents. The girls who feel a need to be perfect - homework, grades, weight - are most vulnerable and the school's message is that no-one is perfect, embrace difference and develop a loud voice.
But we parents play a huge part for sure, maybe more than the school. The school announces sets for different subjects and some parents react by getting tutors. Think of the message that sends to sensitive and perfectionist teens.
So it's not always the school that has the issue but the wider environment including parents and wider family.
Anorexia isn’t ‘catching’ but I reckon as manifestation of self-harm/teenage anxiety it can be in a sense. I’ve certainly heard a few parents and teachers worrying about the extent of EDs in private girls’ schools. Perhaps a toxic combo of girls with very high expectations of themselves or placed on them by their families, and once one girl ‘gets skinny’ by avoiding food, others want to demonstrate that they have that ‘self control’ too. As others have said, it's a risk in these high-perfomance environments, and also can be stemming from families.
I'm very thankful that DD (like me) is accepting of herself as she is and likes being different from others, as I'm hoping this will be a good defence against EDs. (She's at a mixed state school)
Ime self harm, eating disorders and suicide are all "catching" to a certain extent, esp among the young.
Mine did. There were 25 girls (myself included) who were hospitalised a few times over 3 years. It was life threatening and beyond stupid but when you’re 12 and you’re suffering with a myriad of issues it seemed like a great idea at the time.
The school wasn’t very supportive, blamed the parents for the most part.
I heard of this at a super selective girls grammar
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