It’s not always easy for a young person to take time out of education, especially when friends and classmates are continuing to the next year of school, college, or another stage of learning.
Our society puts a lot of pressure on young people to move through education quickly, start work, and get high grades, and it may never feel like the right time to take a pause.
But for young people living with eating disorders – and other mental health conditions – taking time out may be the best decision they can make for their recovery and their future. Sometimes, it may be the only way forward.
The pressure and expectations of school and college often offer little time for reflection and change and can act as a barrier to healing and recovery. At the same time, the model of the ‘perfect student’ can reinforce perfectionist traits that often underpin disordered eating behaviours.
Taking time out isn’t always an easy decision. But for many young people, focusing on treatment and recovery for a year – or more – opens the door to authentic choices, independence, and an education where they can learn and thrive.
Authenticity and Independence
Eating disorders often control a young person’s life. They can dictate their decisions and choices, overpowering other goals, dreams, and values. At the same time, starvation affects the brain’s ability to think clearly, make reasoned decisions, and be resilient to external and internal challenges.
In many cases, eating disorders are a coping mechanism for difficult emotions or experiences of trauma. Young people focus on eating, body shape, and weight to distract or take attention away from deeper feelings of distress. Within this process, eating disorders can prevent young people from connecting with, confronting, and realising their true, authentic selves.
When eating disorders take away a young person’s freedom and independence, they become unable to make authentic life choices. Whether they continue in university, college, or a job, their decisions may not take them to a place they really want to be, or offer a life that is fulfilling and in line with their values.
In these circumstances, taking time out to recover becomes the key to freedom and authenticity. During recovery, young people can confront their trauma and distress safely, beginning a process of healing that, ultimately, allows them to connect with their true selves without pain, shame, or fear.
While this process isn’t easy – and is often very uncomfortable – it opens the door to fulfilment and realisation. It puts young people in a place where they can choose, learn, and grow according to their values and their true selves.
How Undereating Affects the Brain
Many young people with eating disorders restrict their diets according to strict rules, taking in a lot less energy and nutrients than they need. This can put their brains and bodies into a state of semi-starvation, affecting the way they think, feel, and act.
Research shows that starvation causes big psychological changes. Among other things, young people may experience mood fluctuations, intense and negative emotional reactions, decreased enthusiasm, reduced motivation, impaired concentration, and reduced problem-solving abilities.
These changes make it hard for young people to focus on lessons, attend classes, and apply their skills and talents. They may find it difficult to keep up with the pace of school, experiencing additional frustration and distress.
When a young person takes time out for treatment, they can return to education with a healthy brain. This means completing school work to the best of their ability, better concentration in lessons, and stronger and more fruitful relationships with peers, friends, and teachers. While making the decision to take a break can be hard, it may be well worth it.
It’s Okay to Take A Pause
Young people often feel a lot of pressure to fit a certain mould or follow ‘normal’ patterns of education. That might mean going to university straight after school or after only one ‘gap year’ or finishing their degree in the three or four years specified.
These norms can be tied to ideas about success so that going through education in a different, slower, or less linear way feels like a failure.
But in reality, there is no ‘right’ way to move through education. Different people have different experiences and needs that should shape their journey. For many people, taking time out can give them the skills they need to learn better, make more authentic choices, and build a more fulfilling future. There is no rush or race; it’s about what works best for each individual.
The Wave Clinic: Specialist Recovery Programs for Young People
The Wave Clinic offers specialist recovery programs for young people with eating disorder, borderline personality disorder, and other mental health disorders.
Our trauma-focused approach combines exceptional clinical care with education, social responsibility, and a gap year experience, supporting young people to plan and build better futures.
Our recovery programs take a whole-person approach, treating trauma and co-occurring disorders alongside eating disorders. We address the concerns that underpin disordered eating behaviours from the start of treatment, promoting meaningful, lasting recovery and full healing.
The Wave Clinic is a Global Centre of Excellence for the treatment of eating disorders and borderline personality disorder, setting the standard for young people’s mental healthcare across the globe.
If you’d like to find out more about our programs, contact us today. We’re here to help.