This research examined the "mental health literacy" of adolescents concerning eating-disordered behavior. A vignette describing a fictional 16-year old female meeting diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa was presented to 522 female high school students, followed by a series of questions concerning treatment of and treatment-seeking for the problem described. Results indicated that primary care practitioners, mothers and close female friends were most highly regarded as potential sources of help. Self-help interventions, including the use of vitamins and minerals, were also highly regarded, whereas participants were less positive about the benefits of mental health specialists and ambivalent about the use of anti-depressant medication. Most participants believed that the problem described would be difficult to treat, and that relapse was likely even given appropriate treatment. An additional finding of note was that among participants with a high level of eating disorder symptoms (n=36, 6.9%), recognition of an eating problem was poor. We conclude that beliefs likely to be conducive to low and/or inappropriate treatment-seeking for eating problems may be common among adolescent girls. In addition, the findings suggest that prevention programs for the eating disorders need to target not only at-risk individuals, but also individuals in their immediate social environment.
- Eating disorders
- Mental health literacy