It looks like eating disorders and body image issues are rife in the young but many are not seeking help as they don’t consider that the disorders are really illnesses and don’t want to risk losing autonomy.
That means many are leaving it too late and are suffering from the full consequences that an eating disorder can create. Many fear losing control over their eating or weight.
The recent online survey of almost 300 Australian young adults aged 18-25 years found a majority had eating, weight or body shape concerns, and even those with anorexia or bulimia cited reasons to delay getting treatment or expert interventions.
The first author of the study, Kathina Ali, Research Associate in Psychology at Flinders University, says that concern for others and the belief one should solve their own problems were the two most common barriers towards seeking help for eating problems.
“Not wanting others to worry about their problems was the highest endorsed barrier – it reflects the wish for autonomy and also the fear of being a burden to others in this group of young adults.”
Feeling embarrassed about their problems or fearing that other people do not believe eating disorders are real illnesses even prevented young adults experiencing symptoms of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa from seeking help, says fellow psychology researcher Dr Dan Fassnacht.
“Concerningly, only a minority of people with eating disorder symptoms had sought professional help and few believed they needed help despite the problems they were experiencing,” says Dr Fassnacht, Flinders University Psychology Lecturer.
In the research article, entitled 'What prevents young adults from seeking help? Barriers toward help seeking for eating disorder symptomatology', the Australian and German researchers recommended clinicians (counsellors, health workers and others) and the public be made aware of these barriers.
More information and education about the severity and the impact of eating disorders – and how symptoms can get worse without interventions or treatment – should be available to young adults, including the importance of seeking help, and self-management strategies.
Helpful and free evidence-based online resources are available at websites such as Australia’s Butterfly Foundation and the National Eating Disorders Collaboration.
Read the article, entitled 'What prevents young adults from seeking help? Barriers toward help?seeking for eating disorder symptomatology' (April 2020), by K Ali, DB Fassnacht, L Farrer, E Rieger, J Feldhege, M Moessner, KM Griffiths and S Bauer has been published online DOI: 10.1002/eat.23266
The study was conducted within the Australia–Germany Joint Research Cooperation Scheme with colleagues from the University Hospital Heidelberg in Germany, with support from the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre in Australia.
Image by Britt Selvitelle under flicr cc attribution license