University of Nottingham: £3.8m bid to ease despair of eating disorders

A University of Nottingham academic will be researching how personal narratives of illness and recovery can be used to transform the way eating disorders are understood and treated in adolescents, as part of a £3.8m research project.

The lived experiences of young people with eating disorders will be at the heart of the research involving Dr Heike Bartel from the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Nottingham, in collaboration with researchers from Kings College London and the Universities of Edinburgh and others.

Researchers will work directly with young people to develop an interdisciplinary, evidence-based model of how these conditions develop and how those affected recover.

Creative approaches
Study teams will use a range of creative approaches, including theatre and comedy, to increase understanding among professionals and the wider public.

By exploring the diverse experiences of people with eating disorders, experts aim to shed light on the different pathways into these conditions.

They will also focus on the different phases of illness – at-risk, early stage and late stage – so that intervention can be personalised at each step.

Eating disorders are common, across the whole spectrum of society, with devastating impacts on young people’s lives, the research teams says.

Creative means like writing, comedy or theatre can be incredibly powerful and effective to amplify the voices of young people affected by eating disorders and to start much needed conversations. The strength of this project is its dedication to interdisciplinary work that brings science and arts & humanities together.”
Dr Heike Bartel, Department of Modern Languages and Cultures
Research co-leader Dr Helen Sharpe, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Health in Social Science, says: “Eating disorders are so often trivialized and misunderstood. This project provides an incredible opportunity to break down these stereotypes, and to build the foundations for treatments that are tailored to a young person’s unique circumstances.”

The award is part of a £24m investment by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) that seeks to improve the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents in the UK.

Seven projects will seek to generate new understanding of the developing mind to enable young people to flourish. Previous research has shown that 75 per cent of mental health problems emerge before the age of 18.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said: “More work is urgently needed to find effective ways to support the mental health of young people at a crucial stage in their lives.”

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