Happily Here to HEAL: Group Offers Body Image Support

Disguising eating disorders as an act of vanity is a popular way to shrug off serious mental health issues that can inhibit daily functioning. Since anorexia nervosa is the most lethal mental health disorder, with other eating disorders not far behind, it is important to spread awareness and communicate about issues that lie past an unhealthy body.

Theresa Mandrin, a third-year Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies major, said that illnesses and disorders that are more complex to understand, like eating disorders, are still “surrounded by an overwhelming amount of stigma and stereotypes which cloud the truth.”

Project HEAL is taking the initiative to spread the knowledge and create a comfortable group dynamic for people to share their stories. Members of Project HEAL emphasize small steps, which requires patience, time and work, that can create waves in mental health activism.

On Thursday, April 14, Project HEAL held a fundraiser at Murphy’s, where they collected $440 to support people going through inpatient and outpatient treatment. According to Isabella Spatola, a fourth-year psychology major, those who are not within a certain BMI will not be covered by insurance for treatment. Spatola hopes people afflicted with eating disorders can receive treatment regardless of whether they can afford it or not.

“This is an issue because most, if not all, people that are struggling with an eating disorder need more treatment than what insurance will cover and that’s where the money we raise comes in,” Spatola said.

While Project HEAL’s gala was an event to raise funds and serve anonymous people extra financial help, it also served as “a fun night out at the end of a stressful semester, a break from school, while supporting a good cause,” according to Alexa Giardino, a fourth-year sociology major.

Students can contribute and distill cloudy truths by attending meetings. The leaders ensure a safe and confidential environment for everyone, whether they share personal strife or not. During meetings, members create open dialogue and educate each other with firsthand knowledge and facts from mental health research for healing purposes.

“Getting rid of stigmas surrounding mental illness is a difficult thing to do, but I believe that it starts with education and an open dialogue,” Spatola said.

Project HEAL offers the acceptance members have lost during emotionally difficult times. Austin Alvarado, a third-year political science major, said that eating disorders don’t discriminate regarding shape, size, or weight. People who have eating disorders can even hide it so that others can’t pick up on the issue.

“The main reason to do away with such stigmas is because they hinder the scope of treatment and viability of what an eating disorders really are,” Alvarado said. “When it is limited as its been, you neglect to treat and realize the mass amounts of the populace who are affected by such a mental disorder, and fly under the radar.”

If people are equipped with signs and symptoms of eating disorders, others can respond quicker, more efficiently, and maybe have more compassionately. Eradicating all negative associations and misinformation about mental illness is not possible, but with efforts spreading amongst the community, a movement in a positive direction is attainable.