What prevents young adults from seeking help? Barriers toward help-seeking for eating disorder symptomatology

Kathina Ali, Daniel B. Fassnacht, Louise Farrer, Elizabeth Rieger, Johannes Feldhege, Markus Moessner, Kathleen M. Griffiths, Stephanie Bauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate help-seeking attitudes, intentions, and behaviors, and to systematically explore perceived barriers to help-seeking for eating, weight, or shape concerns among young adults. Differences in perceived barriers as a function of type of eating disorder symptomatology were also examined. Method: Data were collected using an online survey among individuals (aged 18-25 years) in Australia. Overall, 291 young adults with varying levels of eating disorder symptoms completed measures of disordered eating, weight or shape concerns, help-seeking barriers, attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. According to their self-reported symptoms, participants were classified into four subgroups (i.e., anorexia nervosa [AN] symptoms, bulimia nervosa [BN] symptoms, binge-eating disorder [BED] symptoms, and other eating disorder symptoms). Results: Despite the belief that help-seeking is useful, only a minority of participants with elevated symptoms, namely those with AN, BN, and BED symptoms, believed they needed help. Across the sample, the most frequently cited barriers to seeking help for eating disorder symptoms were: concern for others, self-sufficiency, fear of losing control, denial and failure to perceive the severity of the illness, and stigma and shame. Discussion: The findings highlight the need to educate young adults about the severity of eating disorders and the importance of seeking help, and to increase the awareness of help-seeking barriers among those designing public health interventions as well as clinicians. Our findings suggest that help-seeking barriers may differ depending on the type of eating disorder symptomology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)894-906
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • barriers
  • eating disorders
  • emerging adulthood
  • stigma
  • treatment gap
  • treatment-seeking


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