4 years ago
Admissions Advice

Is it okay to write about mental illness in an essay?

I had an eating disorder, but I'm recovering now. I also started an Instagram account to help other runners with eating disorders. I want to write about this in my commonApp/ApplyTexas essay (UT Austin).

When I search this question on the Internet, I see a lot of advice against writing about it because the colleges might be afraid to admit people who have/had mental illness. But if I'm in recovery and am trying to help others, then is it ok?

Do you have any examples for what you/other people have done about this in the past?

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@Toddi3 years ago

This is perfectly normal.

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3 answers

Accepted Answer
4 years ago[edited]

After reading a lot of commentary about certain college essay taboos I would say that writing about an eating disorder can have mixed results. Please hear me out. Let's say your application reader at UT Austin is a woman who similarly had an eating disorder and overcame it and became a strong human. She may look at this topic as a triumph and advocate for you. On the other hand what if you get a sis male ex-jock who never understood this kind of disease personally and pre-judges you and feels that you pose somewhat of a risk in ensuring that UT can rely on you as a viable addition to the class makeup. Do you want to leave it up to chance? I'm not sure it's a toss of a coin 50/50 but perhaps the majority of readers may not completely feel this is the best topic for you to uncover about your personal self.

There are so many interesting things about every applicant that you need to ask yourself if perhaps you can pique someone's interest about you by writing about a different facet of your personality. When you have a disorder like bulimia or anorexia laypeople who are not familiar with it or being part of a friend or family member's recovery might make uneducated assumptions about the causality or circumstances that created this situation in your life and make the wrong non-clinical judgment. If you don't get into UT, and you write this essay topic, you might not forgive yourself for thinking that it was misunderstood. My suggestion is that you assess your risk for writing it and if they are beyond your comfort zone, pick another topic.

An extreme view is that some people might think a hard college like UT is already full of stressors so they want to be sure that their future class has the most success at thriving no matter what kind of rigor is thrown at them. I have a friend who is currently suffering from bulimia and lost 25 lbs this summer over-exercising and calorie counting. She is currently in therapy, intense therapy with multiple docs and although I know she will overcome this, it will not be something she wants to share with colleges yet, let alone her friends and family members.

4 years ago

@CameronBameron gave a great answer, but I just want to chime in - it is a risky topic, but if you decide it's right for you, try not to focus too much on the ED and more on how you overcame it. A common mistake with essays on serious topics/illness/tragedy is focusing too much on the event, and not enough on how you responded to it. Hope this helps, and best of luck! It's awesome work you're doing out there :)

4 years ago

As long as you give a story of how you overcame it and make it personal enough that it shows me that YOU came to a realization that changed who YOU are it should be a fine topic to talk about. The major issue I would have is with the Instagram account. It can lead you into going out of topic. Don't forget, the essay is supposed to be about you, not what you accomplished. Also, does the instagram account have a huge following? (more than 10k at least) If yes, then it is something you can mention (after saying your story and how that story led you into creating the account) since you can say you made some sort of impact on other people and your community. If the answer is no, then you can say you are trying to make an impact through the account, but if we are being realistic, colleges love people that have ALREADY succeeded so you mustn't talk that much about it.

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