For individuals struggling with eating disorders, psychosocial stressors and social distancing orders have posed unique risks and far-reaching health effects. Isolation can trigger those struggling with disordered eating and body dysmorphia, and social distancing can disturb daily routines and make maintaining support systems difficult.
The Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Eating Disorder Resource and Support Centre (EDRSC) is a volunteer and staff-run organization founded in 2019 that is committed to providing the McGill and broader Montreal community with support services, advocacy, events, and information regarding disordered eating. Their services are free, non-judgemental, and confidential.
In an email interview with The McGill Tribune, EDRSC’s Training Coordinator Paloma Helper explained what prompted the creation of the EDRSC and how the new organization has adjusted their services during the pandemic.
“In the winter of 2019, our general coordinator Cody Esterle organized the first SSMU [Eating Disorder] Awareness Week,” Helper said. “The two of us decided to try to start an eating disorder support centre through SSMU. We were both frustrated with the lack of resources and support available on campus […] as well as with the misinformation and mainstream narratives around [eating disorders] that centre the experiences of young, thin, cis white women and create a reductive and harmful understanding of mental illness and eating disorders.”
In both 2019 and 2020, the EDRSC was awarded the Roma Nadeem Memorial Award and also officially became a fee-funded SSMU service. The service has grown into a resource centre that supports students, raises awareness, and provides proper education surrounding eating disorders.
With the stay-at-home orders of COVID-19, EDRSC has adjusted their services to an online format, as they realize how the disturbances of the pandemic are disproportionately affecting students with certain needs.
“COVID-19 has significantly impacted many people’s lives in negative ways, especially those who experience financial or housing insecurity, racism, those who are more vulnerable to the health effects of COVID-19,” Helper said. “The financial and life stressors that accompany COVID-19 […] are really difficult things that make it hard to maintain mental health and therefore can exacerbate an eating disorder.”
A study published in July in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that individuals with eating disorders, including anorexia, binge-eating disorder, and bulimia may experience worse symptoms in quarantine, while those with past eating disorders may be vulnerable for relapse during the pandemic. In response, EDRSC has significantly changed how their support services are being offered.
“Our support groups are now held over Zoom twice a week,” Helper said. “We have a sign-up form on our website and Facebook page for groups. We also recently started a partnership with The Looking Glass Foundation, a BC-based eating disorder recovery support space. Our volunteers work on their platform, offering a free forum space that McGill students use to have one-on-one, ongoing conversations with our volunteers. [EDRSC] is still organizing and holding events, [and we are] currently planning for Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which is in February. [EDRSC] will also be involved in SSMU’s Mental Health Awareness Week in January.”
This year, for the first time, EDRSC will be sharing student work in a zine that will benefit local eating disorder organizations and set up scholarship programs for individuals undergoing treatment.
“The student zine will spotlight creative content related to eating disorders, mental health, [and] fatphobia,” Helper said.“We are working towards creating spaces where people can share and read about related experiences and topics.”
The pandemic has induced a stressful and challenging time for us all, and it can be especially hard when managing concerns around eating. Through their programming and services, EDRSC disseminates information to raise awareness about eating disorders and provides resources for those who are struggling with disordered eating or for those who want to learn more.
If you are seeking support, you can talk to one of EDRSC’s trained volunteers in a one-on-one online format here.