Active Minds stages eating disorder panel

Annual event aims to de-stigmatize mental illness on campus

Sarah Bartlett

“I never understood how much I could hate myself until I had an eating disorder,” Madison Penegar, ‘18, said at Washington and Lee’s annual Eating Disorder Panel this past Thursday.

According to a survey by the National College Health Assessment, eating disorders are three times more frequent at W&L than at other college campuses across the nation.

The university’s chapter of Active Minds, a national student organization committed to de-stigmatizing mental illness on college campuses, staged its annual Eating Disorder Panel this past Thursday in Stackhouse Theater.

Four students volunteered to share their stories about their own struggles with eating disorders and body image. Catherine Klinedinst, ‘15, Madison Penegar, ‘18, Kirby Taylor, ‘15, and Claire Sbardella, ‘17, each spoke for ten minutes. They talked about the development of dangerous habits, body image anxieties and their own personal journeys towards recovery and self-acceptance.

“Speaking on a panel about your personal struggles is intimidating, but very rewarding,” Catherine Klinedinst, ‘15, said. This was her second year speaking at the panel. “I’ve learned how important it is to embrace the feeling of vulnerability, because it can have a positive effect on others.”

Panel participants agreed that the event exposed the audience to a variety of viewpoints and experiences.

“What impressed me most was the diversity of story angles. Mine was very straightforward and told a direct series of events,” Sbardella said. “Other stories focused more on the symptoms and social influences, their hopes for the future and the need for greater awareness of eating disorder symptoms. I think this mixture was pretty incredible.”

The event encourages open discussion, and the Active Minds organization hopes to inspire other men and women at W&L to become more open about their body image issues.

“I have found that the W&L’s environment is one that can exacerbate or trigger eating disorders,” Klinedinst said. “I don’t mean that in a bad way, but our school is incredibly competitive in all facets of life.”

Sbardella agreed.

“You can’t catch an eating disorder, but social regulations certainly can influence and reinforce disordered behaviors,” Sbardella said. “The drive to be thin can be very competitive.”

The panel also helps to advertise the resources that are available on campus, and encourages students to seek help from the counseling center. Licensed clinical psychologist Christy Barongan was present at the panel to answer questions and provide support for any students affected by the testimonials.

The school provides free counseling services to any student who would like someone to talk to about anxiety, body image or any other mental health issues.