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Self-Perceived Stigmatization in Female Patients with Anorexia Nervosa - Results from an Explorative Retrospective Pilot Study of Adolescents

Maier A.a · Ernst J.-P.a · Müller S.c · Gross D.a · Zepf F.D.b,d,e · Herpertz-Dahlmann B.b · Hagenah U.b
aInstitute of History, Theory and Ethics in Medicine, and bDepartment of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Aachen, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, cDepartment of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Division of Mind and Brain Research, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, dInstitute for Neuroscience and Medicine, Jülich Research Centre, Jülich, and eJARA Translational Brain Medicine, Aachen and Jülich, Germany Psychopathology 2014;47:127-132 (DOI:10.1159/000350505)


Background: The stigma of mental illness has been identified as an important barrier to treatment and recovery. Previous research reported the stigmatization of individuals with eating disorders by both health professionals and the general public. The aim of this pilot study was to empirically assess the previous stigmatization and discrimination experiences of young female patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) using a retrospective explorative approach. Methods: An in-house questionnaire that was developed to survey experiences of stigmatization was mailed to 75 former adolescent patients with AN. The mean time of assessment after discharge was 5.6 ± 1.2 years. The patients were asked to respond anonymously. The response rate was approximately 48% (n = 36). Results: Feelings that society held negative stereotypes of individuals with AN, concrete experiences of stigmatization and discrimination, and rejection by peers were reported. A remarkable degree of self-stigmatization, as indexed by high rates of agreement to stigmatizing statements, was detected. Approximately one third of the participants reported delayed initiation of treatment due to fear of stigmatization and discrimination. Conclusion: Stigmatization plays a decisive role in young patients with AN and impacts their motivation to seek professional help and engage in treatment. Clinicians should be aware of the stigmatization related to eating disorders and its burden for affected patients.


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