Bac­calieu Col­le­giate sets prece­dent

Old Per­li­can school first to host pre­sen­ta­tion on eat­ing dis­or­ders

The Compass - - Trinity south - BY DENISE PIKE

“While we have bro­ken down bar­ri­ers to some de­gree, there’s still a stigma at­tached to hav­ing an eat­ing dis­or­der.

But talk­ing about it, es­pe­cially amongst stu­dents, brings aware­ness.” Vince Withers, Eat­ing Dis­or­ders Foun­da­tion of

New­found­land and Labrador

Over the past three years Vince Withers, has spo­ken to hun­dreds of peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions about eat­ing dis­or­ders. But Wed­nes­day, Nov. 18 was the first time the chair­man of the Eat­ing Dis­or­ders Foun­da­tion of New­found­land and Labrador had the op­por­tu­nity to share his ex­per­tise on the dis­ease with a group of stu­dents in their school.

“ This is the first op­por­tu­nity we’ve had to get the mes­sage on Eat­ing Dis­or­ders across to the peo­ple who are af­fected most by it, our ado­les­cents,” said Withers. “By ex­tend­ing the in­vi­ta­tion for me to come here and speak about the is­sue of Eat­ing Dis­or­ders, Bac­calieu has set the prece­dent for other schools. It was their ac­tions that caused us (Eat­ing Dis­or­der Foun­da­tion) to be here, as op­posed to us knock­ing on their doors and ask­ing if we can come in and that’s re­ally im­por­tant. It shows they are in­ter­ested and con­cerned about this is­sue.”

Ap­promix­ately 213 Grade 7 to Level 3 stu­dents from Bac­calieu at­tended the pre­sen­ta­tion. The schools AWARE group, spear­headed by Guid­ance Coun­cel­lor Krys­tle Mercer, organized the event.

“ I was anx­ious to do the pre­sen­ta­tion be­cause it was my first time speak­ing in a school set­ting and I wanted to find out if our mes­sage on eat­ing dis­or­ders was be­ing con­veyed prop­erly,” said Withers. “I needed to find out if this was an is­sue they could re­late to and if the kids found it in­ter­est­ing. For­tu­nately they were ex­tremely at­ten­tive. Many of them had a good un­der­stand­ing of an eat­ing dis­or­der and how it af­fects the body, some of them also know peo­ple who have it.”

Ac­cord­ing to Withers, eat­ing dis­or­ders af­fect close to 8,000 fam­i­lies in this prov­ince.

“At least 10 per cent of ado­les­cents be­tween the ages of 13 and 22 have some form of an eat­ing dis­or­der and at least one in five post secondary stu­dents,” he said.

Cop­ing strat­egy

No one knows how to spot the signs of an eat­ing dis­or­der bet­ter than Withers.

His daugh­ter Re­nata, El­iz­a­beth Withers passed away Aug. 30, 2005 from Anorexia Ner­vosa. At the time of her death, Re­nata, 27, weighed less than 70 pounds.

Since then Withers and his wife Delores have been help­ing other fam­i­lies across the prov­ince in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions.

In 2006 Withers founded the Eat­ing Dis­or­der Foun­da­tion of New­found­land and

Labrador and this past June was in­stru­men­tal in open­ing the Re­nata Withers Cen­tre for Hope. The clinic, which is run through the East­ern Health Re­gional Au­thor­ity, al­lows peo­ple with eat­ing dis­or­ders to be treated lo­cally, in­stead of hav­ing to seek help out­side the prov­ince.

The re­tired CEO of New­tel Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and his board of direc­tors are ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic and sup­port­ing fam­i­lies who are deal­ing with the dis­ease.

“An eat­ing dis­or­der is a cop­ing strat­egy, some­thing a per­son uses to deal with a deeper prob­lem,” Withers told Bac­calieu stu­dents.

“It isn’t sim­ply about eat­ing or van­ity. There is no clear def­i­ni­tion of what trig­gers it. How­ever ge­net­ics, low self-es­teem and poor body im­age, in­abil­ity to cope, sex­ual and phys­i­cal abuse and fam­ily is­sues are just some of the con­tribut­ing fac­tors.

“ Eat­ing Dis­or­ders are also com­mon among high achiev­ers and peo­ple who tend to be per­fec­tion­ists, he con­tin­ued. “ What­ever the cause, it’s im­por­tant that fam­i­lies and friends show com­pas­sion for the pain the per­son is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. Part of the prob­lem can be at­trib­uted to TV and so­ci­ety con­stantly re­in­forc­ing the idea that in or­der for a per­son to be happy, suc­cess­ful and healthy, they must be thin.”

In the three years since the Eat­ing Dis­or­der Foun­da­tion has been in op­er­a­tion Withers has seen an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple and fam­i­lies seek­ing sup­port and ad­vice.

“No one should be dy­ing from this dis­or­der,” he said. “ But early di­ag­noses and proper treat­ment is crit­i­cal. Once we can de­ter­mine at the fam­ily doc­tor level that the char­ac­ter­is­tics of an eat­ing dis­or­der are present, the per­son can be re­ferred to a spe­cial­ist and to the Cen­tre of Hope. If not the dis­ease takes over a per­son’s life.”

Early de­tec­tion crit­i­cal

Withers feels the more the mes­sage on Eat­ing Dis­or­ders gets out, the eas­ier it will be to iden­tify and ad­dress. He com­mended stu­dents at Bac­calieu for want­ing to do their part.

“ While we have bro­ken down bar­ri­ers to some de­gree, there’s still a stigma at­tached to hav­ing an eat­ing dis­or­der,” said Withers. “But talk­ing about it, es­pe­cially amongst stu­dents, brings aware­ness. There are prob­a­bly stu­dents here at Bac­calieu who have an eat­ing dis­or­der or know some­one with it, but that’s not un­like other schools across the prov­ince. For­tu­nately they are will­ing to be ed­u­cated on the is­sue and are try­ing to do their part to reach out to help oth­ers.”

Withers en­cour­ages any­one with an eat­ing dis­or­der or who know some­one with it to call the Cen­tre of Hope in St. John’s.

“ We will help, but first the per­son with the eat­ing dis­or­der needs to go to a doc­tor for proper di­ag­noses,” said Withers. “ Sup­port is the key to re­cov­ery and fam­i­lies and friends need to work to­gether. I’ve found when a fam­ily re­ceives sup­port and be­comes stronger, the per­son with the eat­ing dis­or­der does bet­ter. Early de­tec­tion means early treat­ment and the greater the chance for re­cov­ery”

Treat­ment for an eat­ing dis­or­der at the Re­nata Withers’ Cen­tre of Hope in­cludes in­di­vid­ual coun­selling, group as­sis­tance and help for fam­ily and friends.

Denise Pike/The Com­pass AWARE - From left: Bac­calieu Guid­ance Coun­sel­lor Krys­tle Mercer, along with stu­dents Kyle White, Sammi Basha, Mitchell Bar­rett and Johnathan Lan­der show Vince Withers, chair­man of the Eat­ing Dis­or­ders Foun­da­tion of New­found­land and Labrador, the bul­letin board they cre­ated to in­form stu­dents in their school about eat­ing dis­or­ders.

Denise Pike/The Com­pass ED­U­CAT­ING - Vince Withers, chair­man of the Eat­ing Dis­or­ders Foun­da­tion of New­found­land and Labrador, talks to Grade 7 to Level 3 stu­dents at Bac­calieu Col­le­giate in Old Per­li­can about eat­ing dis­or­ders. The Nov. 18 pre­sen­ta­tion was Withers’ first time speak­ing in a school in the prov­ince.

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