Features Health Lifestyle

Diabetes Awareness Month: When mental and physical health intersect

Arts Editor | Mimi Markham

Content warning: eating disorders
The narrative is familiar: student mental illness is a growing problem. In the last
ten years, first year students who report they suffer from a mental illness has
increased fivefold. 75% of mental illnesses are established by the age of 25 and,
as many students arrive as teenagers, there is no doubt universities must
acknowledge their crucial role in young people’s mental health.
But what happens when your mental illness doesn’t fit the usual image of
depression and anxiety? What happens when its triggers are unavoidable? What
happens when its name is yet to be adopted into medical terminology?
Diabulimia is the name given to an eating disorder specific to people with Type 1
diabetes. People with diabulimia may neglect to take their insulin in order to lose
weight.
The change from school to university can be difficult for any student. It can be
even more tricky when coupled with a physical health problem, such as diabetes,
that requires constant management. When mental health is added to the mix,
the results can be particularly serious. Caught between child and adult services,
between physical and mental health services and between home and university,
it is easy for students to fall through the cracks.
Unlike the journey to recovery from other types of eating disorders, those with
diabulimia are forced to confront their triggers every day. Checking food labels
and remaining mindful of your diet is the reality of managing diabetes.
According to Diabetes UK, around 4 in 10 women between the ages of 15 to 30
take less insulin to lost weight. For men, the statistic is around 1 in 10.
However, many people are unfamiliar with the signs, symptoms and even the
existence of diabulimia.
The first step to reducing the prevalence of diabulimia is, like with any other
mental illness, to increase awareness. Once the problem is recognised, it is
easier to find a solution. And we can all start making a difference straightaway
by ensuring we include lesser well-known illnesses in discussions about student
mental health.

You can watch Diabetes UK’s video about Lynsey’s experience with diabulimia
and university:

 

If you are struggling with your mental or physical health, you can make an
appointment with the Health Centre in Founder East.

You can also make an appointment with the Student Counselling Service in
Founders West. The Counselling Service is a team of professional councillors and
the wait for an appointment is usually very quick.

Further resources:

BEAT Eating Disorders Studentline: 0808 801 0811
https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/

Diabetes UK Helpline 0345 123 2399
https://www.diabetes.org.uk/

Student Minds
https://www.studentminds.org.uk/

Sources:

Diabetes UK, Diabulimia and diabetes
https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/life-with-diabetes/diabulimia
Diabetes UK, ‘people's mental health is not being looked after’
https://www.diabetes.org.uk/your-stories/lynsey-mental-health
Education Policy Institute, Prevalence of mental health issues within the student-
aged population
https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/prevalence-of-mental-health-
issues-within-the-student-aged-population/
Independent, How universities can combat the student mental health crisis
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/university-mental-health-
students-depression-anxiety-suicide-alcohol-a8526051.html

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