Early identification and treatment improves the rate of recovery.
However, people with eating disorders typically delay seeking treatment for approximately 8 years. This suggests that people with eating disorders experience significant barriers to seeking help. One principal barrier has been identified as the stigma that exists around eating disorders.
To reduce the stigma associated with eating disorders, there needs to be a shift in the attitudes and knowledge of the general community. This can be achieved through the development of a ‘no-blame’ model, aimed at minimising the shame or humiliation experienced by people with eating disorders.
Standards and regulations also need to be applied in the media, with a particular focus on counteracting negative or inaccurate views of eating disorders. For instance, negative body issues and unhealthy eating practices are commonly represented in the media. Steps are required to ensure that the media communicates appropriate messages regarding eating disorders, healthy eating and body image.
Other barriers in seeking help and finding care include:
- The skills and knowledge of health care professionals – When people do seek help, it is often for a separate problem and practitioners may fail to look beyond the presenting issue to recognise symptoms of an eating disorder. This may be due to lack of knowledge or inaccurate beliefs about eating disorders. This can be corrected through targeted health literacy programs and specific training in eating disorder awareness and recognition
- Inaccessible care in remote areas – Specialist services for eating disorders are mainly concentrated in large metropolitan centres and access to care in rural and remote areas can be inadequate and in many cases, non-existent
- Unacceptable care – The availability of care for varying age groups, types of eating disorders and specific treatment interventions can often reflect clinician interest and expertise, rather than coordinated planning, individual treatment needs and holistic care as required by each illness
- Unclear pathways to care – Unfortunately people with eating disorders and those caring for them do not have a clear understanding of how and when to access help. Clear indicators of referral and care pathways are needed to promote available resources and services