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Improving School Mental Health Services for Students with Eating Disorders

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Abstract

Nearly 14% of all youth display disordered eating patterns. Despite the prevalence of these disorders, there is limited literature on the integration of eating disorder support services in schools. Further, there is often limited eating disorder knowledge and training for school mental health (SMH) professionals. This paper describes a two-phase study involving qualitative and quantitative components examining the perspectives of adolescents in recovery from eating disorders, family members, and SMH professionals. Fourteen participants were recruited from an eating disorder treatment facility in the southeastern USA. Eight adolescent females who received treatment for disordered eating while in primary or secondary school and six of their mothers completed interviews. In addition, 720 SMH and allied professionals were surveyed on their knowledge and training in disordered eating identification and intervention and their perspectives on service provision, with 561 complete and usable surveys. Analyses of adolescent and family data revealed the following themes that hindered or helped recovery: Isolation, Perfectionism, Difficulties with Self-Acceptance and Comparison to Others, Uncertainty, Teacher Identification, Support in Recovery. Themes surrounding the benefits of including SMH services for this population included: Increased Awareness, Support in Recovery, Family Involvement, and Linking to Resources. Results revealed that the majority of SMH professionals did not receive training in the identification and/or intervention of disordered eating. Data suggested that lack of referrals and limited knowledge, skills, and time interfered with their ability to effectively identify and intervene. Findings provide a foundation for understanding the experiences of adolescents with disordered eating and the role of SMH programs in assisting them.

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Schiele, B., Weist, M.D., Martinez, S. et al. Improving School Mental Health Services for Students with Eating Disorders. School Mental Health 12, 771–785 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-020-09387-6

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