Stigmatization of and discrimination against people with eating disorders including a report of two nationwide surveys



Nationwide surveys of public opinions in 1998 and 2003 confirmed that people with eating disorders are often viewed negatively; especially so in respect of perceived communication and empathy difficulties and beliefs that such disorders are self-inflicted. These findings are age and social class related. Knowing someone with an eating disorder lessens the chances of such negative labeling. Over the five years, several campaigns, combating the stigmatization of people with mental illnesses, were mounted. The egosyntonicity of anorexia nervosa and the individual's related fear of and resistance to interventions can fuel such negative public perceptions, as can the panic, shame, unpredictability and secrecy that can accompany bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa, one of the most serious of the mental illnesses, is often trivialized in the public mind. People with eating disorders are usually concerned to minimize their disabilities and, unlike those with some physical disabilities, rarely defend their human rights. Over the five years between the surveys there were small significant reductions in the percentages of the public expressing some negative views. Attempts to further reduce these stigmatizations need to continue to be rooted in ‘Protest, Education and Contact’ (Corrigan and Watson, 2002). Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.