By Nicolette Fascenelli

Between 5% to 17% of college students have eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. It is known that a minority of people actually receive professional help for eating-related issues. For instance, researchers found that less than 45% of individuals who are diagnosed with an eating disorder receive treatment. Also, only 17% of individuals that are identified at risk for an eating disorder seek help.

Researchers believe that it is important to understand the factors that are involved for individuals who suffer from an eating disorder, but they do not seek any help. It is known that eating disorders are linked with various psychological and medical issues.

For example, eating disorders are associated with psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, alcohol, and substance abuse. Also, medical problems that are associated with eating disorders involve reproductive problems, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular issues.

Researchers believe that it is crucial to implement effective interventions for barriers to seeking help among individuals who are experiencing disordered eating behaviors and attitudes. Below will discuss the roles of self-stigma among individuals that experience an eating disorder and how stigmatization negatively impacts individuals for receiving professional help.

Barriers that people experience with seeking help

  • In the last 10 years, researchers have found various barriers for seeking help among individuals with unhealthy eating behaviors and attitudes.
  • One of the barriers that was found is when individuals feel like they need to keep the symptoms of their eating disorder a secret. In a study, it was found that high school students had a desire to keep eating issues private and that was a major reason for them to not seek out help. When college students experience patterns of an eating disorder, they tend to hide any symptoms from people in their life. College students have reported that when they don’t seek help, it is an attempt to hide their disorder.
  • Individuals are known for hiding their symptoms because they are scared for being labeled for having a mental illness. It is known that stigmatization comes from being labeled for having a mental illness.
  • Stigmatization leads to negative reactions from other individuals and this causes self-stigmatization.
  • Self-stigmatization is considered to be the internalization of the negative beliefs that society has about mental illness and this leads to individuals to view themselves in a negative way. When an individual is exercising self-stigma, it is likely that they will experience low-self-esteem.
  • It has been found that there are negative relating attitudes for individuals to seek counseling. For instance, it was found that individuals who experience symptoms of an eating disorder may have negative attitudes for seeking professional help due to the fear of being labeled.
  • Studies show that the individuals who do attend therapy are known to take longer to open up because they experience shame for having an eating disorder. Also, individuals have reported concerns about going to therapy because they struggle with trusting others and not feeling safe.
  • Individuals with eating issues fear treatment because they are worried that it would cause weight gain.

Barriers among Gender and Help Seeking

  • There are barriers to seeking professional help for eating disorders among genders.
  • There are more women compared to men that experience an eating disorder. On the other hand, the rate of the prevalence of eating disorders among men are increasing. For instance, it is known that the lifetime prevalence rate of an eating disorder for women is 17.9% and for men it is between 6.5% and 10%.
  • Women report more positive attitudes about counseling compared to men. The reason for these differences among men and women seeking professional help is that men perceive a greater stigma related to counseling. It is known that society expects men to handle issues on their own and counseling should be a man’s last resort. Society causes men to experience an increased self-stigma and a greater sense of failure if men feel like they need counseling. The stigmatization in regards to men seeking professional help will prevent men to receive the help that they need.

What We Can Do to Help:

We understand that individuals may be suffering from eating disorders, and if you need support, we are always here to help! Talk to our therapists today to learn more about our teletherapy service.

Our telehealth service is a convenient, flexible, and effective alternative through which high-quality mental health care is provided consistently and remotely using HIPAA-compliant technologies. Rest assured, our telehealth therapists are highly-trained professionals who can offer you the solutions with long-lasting outcomes. Call (714) 386-9171 to schedule an appointment. For faster services, email us at

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Hackler, A. H., Vogel, D. L., & Wade, N. G. (2010). Attitudes Toward Seeking Professional Help for an Eating Disorder: The Role of Stigma and Anticipated Outcomes. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88(4), 424–431.

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