Who talks about eating disorders online?
The charts below show the breakdown of identifiable authors, left, with the most prominent two authors’ conversation broken down by emotion, right.
Almost 10% of mentions featured authors seeking support or asking questions. One male author asked for help and advice on how to support his girlfriend, who suffers from bulimia, and a patient experiencing binge eating episodes used a forum to seek advice on entering a rehab facility.
There was slightly less conversation from authors giving advice than from those seeking support, suggesting a potential need for further online support. However, when including discussion which is supportive in tone (“Choose life, always choose life” or “I pray things are better for you soon”), 12% of conversation is supportive/advice giving. The data reflects an opportunity to cultivate and strengthen existing online support networks.
There was limited evidence of pro-eating disorder conversation, despite research in 2011 by Dr Helen Sharpe at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London naming pro websites “very common”. This indicates that viewing content on such sites may be more prevalent than authors actively posting, or that the conversations take place in closed forums.
Individuals whose link to the condition was not identifiable were the most prevalent author group online, accounting for around one third of all conversations, followed closely by news authors, indicative of media interest in eating disorders.
The most dominant emotional state of individual authors was supportive, followed by a tone defensive of those suffering from an eating disorder, followed by advice giving, indicating that individuals talking about eating disorders online are most likely to offer a supportive voice.
Though sufferer voice was lower for eating disorders relative to other conditions, the prevalence of ‘struggling’ discussion among current sufferers (11%) shows social media as an established means for expressing and sharing symptom experiences.