by Naveen Kassamali, LMFT
According to statistics, “at any given point in time between 0.3-0.4% of young women and 0.1% of young men will suffer from anorexia nervosa.” There is a high rate of female athletes that report an eating disorder. “. In weight-class sports (wrestling, rowing, horse racing) and aesthetic sports (bodybuilding, gymnastics, swimming, diving) about 33% of male athletes are affected. For female athletes in weight class and aesthetic sports, disordered eating occurs at estimates of up to 62%.”
This article presents a case study of a teenager struggling with anorexia nervosa. It highlights some common symptoms for parents and teachers to be watchful for and how the teen found help through using a digital mental health app. The case study involves a fictitious identity; any resemblance to a real person is completely coincidental.
Maria is a 16-year-old female athlete experiencing anorexia nervosa. She is a swimmer and is overly concerned about her appearance and performance. She is at a new school, and has to adjust to a new town, friends and classes all over again; she has moved 2 times in the last 5 years, and feels that she has no control over her life. Her family hasn’t noticed her disordered eating, but her counselor at her new home high school noticed her weight decreasing. She asked her about it, and Maria disclosed she was struggling with an eating disorder.
Maria's counselor Sarah is having one on one sessions with her every week, but realizes that she doesn’t have the resources to keep track of Maira between sessions. She started researching ways to help keep track of Maria’s weight, stress level, and if she is following through with her therapy assignments. Sarah found Neolth, which is a digital mental health app for teens.
When Maria first signs up, she answers a few questions about what she is struggling with. The app automatically connects her with self-guided activities that meet her unique health needs. Through the app, Maria learns which modality works best for her: she tries mindfulness exercises, art and cognitive behavioral therapy exercises and finds she prefers mindfulness exercises for stress relief. She also enjoys Art Therapy, which has helped release unprocessed emotions. Maria shares her Art Therapy exercises with her counselor during a session, which helps Sarah get a better understanding of Maria's emotional world.
Maria is also interested in watching peer videos on disordered eating and anxiety. She finds connection and understanding through watching her peers discuss their shared struggles with mental health. These videos encourage her to have a better relationship with food and make her feel less alone. One video series in particular, created by undergraduate student Margaret, has a great impact on Maria. Margaret's videos discuss her personal story with body image, weight and food. A certified Body Positive Facilitator, Margaret introduces the concept of Body Positivity. She also has Cook and Eat with Me videos that helped Maria learn about intuitive eating.
In this scenario, Maria not only feels supported through her one on one sessions with her school counselor, she also receives self-guided help between sessions through the Neolth app. Maria now has access to a program that teaches her positive coping skills, allows her to track and gain insight about her relationship with food, and reduces stigma by letting her know that she isn’t alone. Sarah is able to keep up with Maria’s progress by receiving real-time, remote updates through Neolth’s counselor platform. After 8 weeks on Neolth, Maria starts to maintain a healthy weight because she has a better understanding of her mental health and has learned positive coping skills. With the help of digital health, it’s a win for the student and school!