Stereotypes surrounding those affected by eating disorders are thought to play a part in preventing access to psychological help. It is important to know what some of the existing stereotypes are so that we can decrease the stigma and help people struggling with eating disorders to seek support.

 

Eating disorders and race

Perhaps unsurprisingly, recent research found that when asked, 39% of people believed that white individuals were more likely to struggle with an eating disorder in comparison to those identifying as part of an ethnic minority group (Gordon, Perez & Joiner, 2002). This is not reflective of reality, as it has been found that eating disorders are not only as common in minority ethnic groups but may in fact be more common. The impact of this is that eating disorder difficulties may go unrecognised by healthcare professionals and family members in minority ethnic groups. In research carried out by the UK’s Eating Disorder Charity, BEAT, one participant said that her mixed race South Asian ethnicity played a role in her illness and subsequently a delay in her accessing help (BEAT, 2019).

The study also found that those who identify as an ethnic minority felt less confident in seeking help for their eating disorder (52%), with those who identify as white British (64%) stating they would feel confident seeking help (BEAT, 2019).

Eating disorders and income.

Similar rates of eating disorder are seen across all levels of both education and income. There has been a stereotype that eating disorders only affect those from more affluent backgrounds. However, this just isn’t the case. It had been found that symptoms of eating disorders are seen equally across all socioeconomic backgrounds (Mulders-Jones, Mitchison, Girosi & Hay, 2017).

 

Eating disorders and gender.

Eating disorders are typically seen as a problem only affecting women, despite the fact that up to 40% of those struggling with disordered eating identify as male. The stereotype of eating disorders being ‘only female’ contributes to the immense stigma and barriers to support that men face when seeking help for eating disorders (Hayaki & Free, 2016). A lot of awareness still needs to be raised regarding the prevalence of eating disorders in men, in order to combat the stigma of seeking help (BEAT, 2019).

 

Eating disorders and LGBT+ identifying people.

The oppression that members of the LGBT+ community face can take psychological toll which can contribute to the significantly higher risk of eating disorders in those identifying with sexual minority groups. Despite this, BEAT found that 37% of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents expressed that they would not feel comfortable in seeking support in comparison to 24% of straight people (BEAT, 2019).

Eating disorders can be a highly distressing psychological problem, affecting many people irrespective of race, income, gender and sexual orientation. We need to work to raise awareness of who is affected by eating disorders in order to challenge the stereotypes and decrease stigma with the hope that this will make it easier for those struggling with eating disorders to seek help.

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