Teens’ Beliefs about Seeking Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2007 Volume 18, Number 6
©2007 Gürze Books

A recent Australian study examining the “mental health literacy” of female teens found that the girls trusted primary care physicians, their mothers and their close female friends as potential sources of help for bulimia nervosa (BN) (J Youth & Adoles 2007; 36:753).

Dr. Jonathan Mond and colleagues developed a fictitious vignette of a 16-year-old girl who met diagnostic criteria for BN. The vignette was presented to 522 female high school students, who were then questioned about how BN was treated and where they would turn to get treatment for BN.

In addition to the sources of help noted by the girls, the researchers also found that self-help interventions, including the use of vitamins and minerals, were very popular with the teens. The girls were much less enthusiastic about the benefits of seeking help from mental health professionals and ambivalent about the use of antidepressants to treat the disorder. Most felt that the problem would be difficult to treat and that the fictitious patient would probably have a relapse even if she did have appropriate treatment.

One unexpected finding was that study participants with a high level of eating disorder symptoms (36 girls, or 6.9% of the group) rarely recognized that they themselves had an eating problem. The authors concluded that beliefs likely to be conducive to low and/or inappropriate treatment-seeking for eating disorders may be common among adolescents. According to the authors, prevention programs for eating disorders need to target not only individuals at risk but individuals in their immediate social circle as well.

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