Eating disorders (EDs) are a heavily stigmatised mental illness that attract a great deal of blame-based stigma. Research indicates that people generally hold individuals with EDs personally responsible for their condition, and believe they have the best recovery rate of any mental illness. In reality, anorexia nervosa (AN) has the highest morality rate of all psychiatric disorders. EDs also carry the seemingly unique quality of possessing symptoms that might appear socially desirable to a layperson, such as low weight and self-control. The potential exists, then, that interventions aimed at reducing mental health stigma may need to deal with EDs separately from other mental illnesses, as they are unique in that they carry misconceptions that actually make them appear attractive to the general population.
Adolescents are thought to be the ideal place to start when it comes to changing social attitudes, since their own are still in a state of flux and therefore more open to alternative ways of thinking. Contact-based initiatives, whereby a member of the stigmatising group has an incident of positive contact with a mentally ill individual, have emerged in recent years as the most effective method of reducing stigma. Whilst it has been effectively utilised in reducing stigma towards individuals with bipolar disorder and individuals to schizophrenia, no studies to date have tested its effectiveness with individuals with EDs.
My project will involve interviewing survivors of EDs about their experiences of stigma and discrimination, as well as focus groups with adolescents about their attitudes towards eating disorders. I propose that the themes refined from this data will provide strong support for contact theory as an effective intervention design in reducing ED-specific stigma.
McAlinden, S. Ú. (2015, May 10). The stigma of eating disorders: How teenage girls conceptualise and formulate discriminatory attitudes, Annual PsychHike, Newcastle, NI.
McAlinden, S. Ú. (2015, September 25). Mental illness and contact-based initiatives: A proposal for tackling the stigma of eating disorders, QUB Post-grad Conference, Belfast, NI.
McAlinden, S. Ú. (2015, November 21). Making sense of mixed messages: How teenage girls understand eating disorders, European Council of Eating Disorders, Heidelberg, Germany.
McAlinden, S. Ú. (2016, May 14). Eating disorder stigma: The survivors' perspective, Annual PsychHike, Attical, NI.
Achievements and Distinctions
BA Journalism, BA (Hons.) Psychology, MSc Atypical Child Development (with Distinction)
Eating disorders; Clinical psychology; Mental health stigma; Mental health; Adolescent psychology; Qualitative research