Exploring Experiences of Eating Disorders: An Artistic Narrative Analysis

Aims

Eating disorders are a group of mental disorders associated with significant levels of stigma. A multi-media exhibition was curated, in collaboration with the National Centre for Mental Health, aiming to facilitate improved empathy and understanding between those with personal experience of an ED and those without. Individuals with lived experience of EDs collaborated to share art, poetry and spoken word reflective of their experiences. Quantitative analysis of participant interviews explored perceived ED triggers and positive interventions by family and friends.

Method

Participants (n=5) were recruited using a self-selection model subject to inclusion (Current Cardiff University Student and /current diagnosis of ED) and exclusion (no suicidal ideation last 12 months) criteria. Unstructured interviews were conducted using a narrative therapy approach. Interview transcripts were qualitatively analysed using Microsoft Excel to detect and thematic frequency. Participants were also encouraged to creatively communicate their ED experience to contribute to a multi-media exhibition.

Results

Thematic analyses showed that the emotion ‘Shame’ was frequently correlated with subsequent development of an ED (n=37). Participants described a ‘shame-shame cycle’ whereby shame acted as a consistent causative factor for ED behaviours, mediated by ‘unhealthy coping mechanisms’ (n=19). Development of an ED then cultivated a sense of shame if individuals maintained secrecy (n=6) or encountered judgement from peers and professionals (n=4). ‘Empathy’ (n=13) and ‘good communication with peers’ (n=8) appeared to mitigate the shame-shame cycle.

Conclusions

Shame is strongly correlated with EDs and both causes and maintains EDs in a cycle. Exhibitions that facilitate bilateral engagement between individuals with EDs and those without may represent an innovative destigmatising intervention.