grace izzo headshot

Editor’s Note: This article mentions suicide and eating disorders. 

In a school of over 36,000, four may seem like a small number. But four suicides in one semester is indicative of nothing less than a mental health crisis. And for those who knew the students lost to suicide this semester, the loss is anything but small and the magnitude of these tragedies cannot be put into words. 

Given NC State’s suicide epidemic, which is hard to quantify because of the University’s lack of transparency around how many students have been lost to suicide over the years, I am saddened that it is only now being addressed by the University. I am also disappointed that preventive measures do not include a demographic in which sufferers are up to significantly more likely to die by suicide than the general population — people with eating disorders (EDs). 

According to a study by the National Institute of Health, individuals with anorexia are 18 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population, and individuals with bulimia nervosa are seven times more likely to die by suicide than the general population.

One study of college students identified that 13.5% of women and 3.6% of men showed eating disorder symptoms. Using that statistic, in a school of 36,000+ (about 51% degree-seeking men and 49% degree-seeking women), NC State may approximately have over 3,000 students who display ED symptoms, of which many may have or may develop a full blown ED and therefore are seven to 18 times more likely to die by suicide than their peers. However, that number is likely higher due to the increased prevalence of EDs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m in recovery myself from a severe eating disorder. Over the years, it has led to three hospitalizations and I’ve had to leave school to take time off for recovery multiple times. Last semester, my Health and Happiness class had an assignment that my therapist, dieticians and psychiatrist all agreed would be detrimental to my recovery. Despite three letters from eating disorder professionals stating why the assignment swap was necessary for my recovery, my professor and the Disability Resource Office (DRO) refused to consider an assignment swap, even though I have documentation at DRO of anorexia. It wasn’t until I filed a formal complaint with the university and was connected to the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity that I was able to receive the accommodation that I needed.

Throughout this process, I spent hours seeking out resources, getting the appropriate documentation and multiple therapy sessions processing the stress and frustration of the situation. The burden of advocating for a reasonable swap should not take that level of effort, considering how mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting EDs are. Leaving the responsibility of making such decisions in the hands of professors who are not trained in EDs is negligent on behalf of the University.

Other than the club that I started last spring for ED recovery on campus with Fiona Prestemon, Healing EveryBODY, there is a frightening lack of ED recovery resources on campus. I wish my situation were an isolated one, but after conversations with other community members in ED recovery, it appears that NC State’s lack of ED awareness has also left other students feeling as though they had to choose to prioritize either their recovery or their academics. That’s a choice no member of the Pack should ever have to make. 

Addressing mental health starts by having open and honest conversations about the impacts of current policies, which was the intention behind this column. I hope so much that this inspires change, and also hope that this makes someone feel less alone in feeling frustrated in how the University is addressing this time of crisis, or provides helpful resources to community members who are struggling. 

In gratitude, Grace Izzo 

If you are struggling with an eating disorder or negative body image, you are not alone. Healing EveryBODY is a new NC State club dedicated to creating a supportive space for individuals working to heal their relationship with food and body image, as well as preparing students to serve as compassionate and effective allies to those struggling with eating disorders. 

Connect with Healing EveryBODY here through their website

If you or someone you know is having a mental health emergency, the Counseling Center can be reached 24 hours a day at 919-515-2423. If you are in a crisis situation and need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. In the case of a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

The Counseling Center’s website offers free online screenings, a plethora of self-help resources regarding mental health and wellness concerns and a comprehensive list of campus services available for those who need guidance. To view an exhaustive list, visit counseling.dasa.ncsu.edu/resources.

If you’re seeking professional counseling or other mental health services on campus, visit the Counseling Center’s Getting Started page at counseling.dasa.ncsu.edu/about-us/gettingstarted to complete paperwork, set up an appointment and more.