Stress and body image: Oxford’s hidden cost

first_imgOxford students continue to be twice as likely as students at other universities to suffer from eating disorders at some point in their lives.A ground breaking investigation conducted by psychologists Sell and Robson in 1998 revealed that 36 per cent of female students at Oxford have suffered from eating disorders, and a follow-up survey 9 years later, conducted by this newspaper, confirmed that over 30 per cent of male and female students continue to have the same problems.61 per cent of students said they knew more than one sufferer of disordered eating, and considered anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating to be a real problem within the University. Almost 40 per cent of those students who suffered from disordered eating said that life at Oxford had definitely been a contributing factor to their illness, with an additional third stating that it had possibly aggravated their illness.One student commented, “As an arts student at Oxford you spend a lot of time by yourself working in the libraries. I remember I was having to get through so many books each week that I stayed in the library all hours. Being at Oxford allows you to do that, whereas other places are more class-based with seminars and things like that. Here, you can get away with not seeing people.”Dr Nicky Boughton, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Warneford Hospital, expressed her concern at Oxford students’ susceptibility to eating disorders. “The people that are vulnerable to eating disorders tend to have perfectionist personalities. The whole system reinforces the view that if you don’t do exceptionally well, then you may as well not bother. Students can become very insecure when they realise that maybe they’re not the best, and it’s easy for them to retreat into their room and lose sight of what’s important,” she said.According to the survey’s results, over two-thirds of students feel that the University has adequate welfare provision to deal with students with eating disorders, while 15 per cent felt that services provided were very good. This stands positively against Sell and Robson’s research, which found that 63 per cent of students felt there was a stigma attached to seeking help from a professional.Despite this, students have expressed their concern that current welfare provisions at Oxford are inadequate.One student suffering from bulimia and anorexia described how she felt let down by her college’s response to her admission that she had an eating disorder. “I went to the College Nurse to admit that I had a problem and she was pretty unhelpful and said in a jovial tone that I shouldn’t worry, because there were people at Oxford who went down to 5 stone and still got through their degrees. That’s not helpful when you’re thinking of leaving. You feel like a cop-out. I took it to mean that I hadn’t lost enough weight. I mentioned that when I went into hospital and they were livid. That’s why it’s so important to educate College staff about this,” she said. An Oxford welfare officer who wished to remain anonymous said, “The fact that eating disorders have again been shown to be unusually high in Oxford says something very serious about the culture which students live in, and the failings of the University’s welfare provision. While student welfare officers do an excellent job, the University must start living up to its responsibilities to students.”last_img

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