Mental Health at MC leads Forum on Eating Disorders for NEDA Week

Students were welcomed to learn and discuss eating disorders and other mental health issues. @MENTALHEALTHTHATMCINSTAGRAM/COURTESY

By Mary Haley, Asst. Social Media Editor

Mental Health at Manhattan College, a new club on campus, hosted a panel led by The Hidden Opponent (THO). Several organizations contributed, with members discussing resources available for anyone struggling with an eating disorder and how to help people who may not know they’re struggling. 

Advocates in the organizations, including Manhattan College students, spoke on their struggles with eating disorders while they were in college, as the panel was geared towards showing support for college students and student athletes.

THO is an accredited non-profit and advocacy group whose focus is to raise awareness of student athletes’ mental health and address the stigma of mental health issues within sports culture, according to their website

Southern Smash, a program within the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, was also present on the panel. The program’s founder, McCall Dempsey, was on the panel, and said that she came up with the idea in hopes to take clinical perspectives and mix them with real life stories. 

Both leaders and advocates from the organizations present, as well as current MC students, contributed to the panel’s discourse regarding eating disorders. 

Colleen Werner, a mental health counselor, spoke on the livestream about her personal story with anorexia in college. 

“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my relationship with food or what I was doing with food […] Food and my relationship with my body really consumed so much of my life,” Werner said. “I was just like, ‘Oh, this is just what life is, this is just all it is.’”

Werner recounted her experience in college with an eating disorder, and how being a dance major and a model reinforced a hurtful cycle because of the stress of being involved in two body focused industries. In the dance and modeling world, constant dieting and unhealthy habits are used by people in order to conform to the beauty standard they are expected to fit into. Werner explained that many people did not see any problems with her unhealthy habits and even encouraged her eating disorder when people would praise her for losing weight. 

“The disorder was never satisfied,” Werner said. “There was never a point where what I was doing to my body was ever enough. There was never a number that was like ‘Oh I’ve checked that off, everything is just great.’”

In her experience living with an eating disorder came a point where it was too overwhelming to keep struggling for Werner. The summer before her sophomore year of college she recognized feeling anxious “24/7” and being “totally consumed” by her eating disorder. 

Werner shared a time she overheard her friends talking about their eating disorders and how she remembered experiencing those same feelings. As a result, Werner quickly started to go to therapy to heal her relationship with food and her body image. 

As a college athlete on the panel, Patrick Devenny, opened up about his eating disorder struggles in college when playing on the University of Colorado football team. 

As a man, Devenney makes up the 33% percent of  “males who have used unhealthy behaviors as an attempt to alter their weight.” Devenny said this point in order to show that eating disorders do not discriminate, and they do not pertain only to women as the media often portrays. 

“[Eating disorders] really [are] something that need to be discussed more and even beyond seeing them exclusively male or female or athletes in general,” Devanney said. 

Devenney also received the same praise on his body as Werner did when they were both severely struggling with their bodies. Especially as a division one football player, Devenney opened up about the quick physical transition he was expected to make when he was switched from quarterback to tight end at the end of his freshman year at the University of Colorado. 

This switch called for more supervision by Devenny’s coaches on his weight and physical stature. In order to be in the correct shape for his coaches’ expectations, Devenney fell into disordered habits. 

“Strength coaches and athletic departments had [me] step on the scale every single day,” Devenny said. “I would literally stuff two and a half pound weights … somewhere that the coaches couldn’t see and make weight. Otherwise you’re penalized and or forced to sit there and eat something or drink something to hit a black and white number which obviously is not a very healthy approach.”

In order to encourage more open conversation among college athletes on eating disorders and mental health in general, Mental Health at MC spoke with The Quadrangle on their initiative to provide a support group for any athletes or students in general who are struggling with their mental health. 

“I kind of wanted to be the driving force that I didn’t have when I was at my worst,” said Nicolette Caneda, a senior at MC, when asked why she started the club. “I think working through recovery and talking about what I’m learning and what’s helping me and becoming an outlet for other students is like my number one priority.”

Mental Health at MC is aiming to end the stigma around mental health by starting an athlete support group, where injured athletes can go to have conversations about mental health and so they know they are not alone. 

“We have a plan to start once a month, meet with all the injured athletes, just to make sure they’re being checked in on, making sure they’re working towards their recovery and doing everything they’re supposed to, in and out of the training room,” Caneda said. “And also just making sure that they’re still just as much of a part of the team as anybody else, on and off the field.” 

Mental Health at MC is also open to non student athletes. Because of their connection to THO and Southern Smash, many resources are available to any students struggling with their mental health. 

  “Whenever we have panels like this, or in a month we don’t have a panel that one of our organizations is offering, we definitely want to just have an open conversation,” Caneda said. “Just a night that any athlete or really anybody on campus just wants to kind of just talk to anybody else that is struggling with other mental health issues, and have an open room to have that happen.”

Mental Health at MC conducts much of their information and support through their instagram account. Nikki Scaglione, secretary of the club, spoke with The Quad about why online exposure to this information is so important. 

“I noticed there wasn’t any mental health Instagram account … and there wasn’t really anything like obviously spreading this information,” Scaglione said. “So, I think it’s important that we’re using our Instagram account and obviously trying to also use the meetings to spread this kind of information because [spreading the information] for some reason didn’t exist before this.”

When asked about what this club means to the group of athletes on E-board, Katy Holly, vice president of the club, spoke on the change this club hopes to make in the Manhattan College community. 

“On a broader scale, over the past year, maybe two years, there’s been an uptick in student athlete suicides across the country and it’s been really eye opening I think for alot of people,” Holly said. “[The club] is important because as such a small school we don’t have nearly enough mental health resources … and I think just like trying to spearhead it from a student perspective is super beneficial and important.”

Editor’s note: Kyla Guilfoil, who is Managing Editor & Sports Editor for The Quadrangle, contributed to this story.