Background: Minimal research has been conducted on how individuals with Anorexia nervosa (AN) undergoing treatment perceive public stigma.
Aim: Explore how affected individuals with AN believe the general public perceives AN.
Method: Using thematic analysis, 19 participants with AN were interviewed at the beginning of treatment.
Results: Three interrelated themes were ascertained: (1) AN is not an illness; (2) eating disorder behaviours are volitional and the public endorses a socio-cultural explanation for the disorder; 3) affected individuals delay disclosing their illness and experience shame engaging in intensive treatment for AN as a result of their perception of stigma.
Conclusions: Individuals with AN viewed the public as trivializing AN by viewing behaviours as within their control and by attributing eating disorder behaviours solely to socio-cultural factors. Participants believed that the public minimizes the challenges associated with treatment. Findings suggest that clinical interventions targeting stigma are required to counteract perceptions held by service users regarding how others view their illness. "Mental health literacy" interventions are needed for health professionals working with high risk groups likely to avoid seeking help due to fears of stigmatization.
Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; intensive treatment; qualitative research; stigma.