A needs assessment: resources for males with eating disorders
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Approximately 5-10% of all identified eating disorders occur in males. The purposes of this study were to identify resources currently available to males with eating disorders and define what additional resources are needed for support, education, prevention, and recovery. Three research questions guided the study: what treatment resources and educational programs are available in Canada that are geared specifically to males with eating disorders, what do health professionals who work with eating disordered adolescents and adults identify is needed for treatment resources and education for males with eating disorders, and what do males who have anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa identify as being useful, relevant, and accessible to them in terms of treatment resources and education? Qualitative needs assessment methodology was used, which included three phases: pre-assessment, assessment, and post-assessment. Reflexive journal, peer debriefing, member checking, and feedback were also used. A thorough search of eating disorders resources specific to males was conducted through contacts with government and organizations. Fifteen health professionals who work with eating disorders and eight males with anorexia or bulimia (ages 18-42) were interviewed regarding their knowledge and use of treatment and information resources for eating disorders. The health professionals varied in their experience with male eating disorder clients. The males varied in stage and severity of their eating disorder; three men had anorexia, three men had bulimia, one man had both, and one man was pre-anorexic. Results of the resource search showed scattered availability of male specific written information and treatment programs across Canada. There were several combination and non-gender specific resources and educational programs available for use with male eating disorder issues. The internet provided websites (Canadian and international) that contained male specific and general eating disorders information. The health professionals and the male eating disorder participants discussed a number of main themes related to resources, including format and design, focus, access and location, gender specificity, support groups, nutrition information, internet, and personal and community support. There were very specific suggestions from participants for treatment and information resources to be developed. Both the health professionals and the males identified a number of barriers related to resource access and use; these included failure to recognize the eating disorder by health professionals, family and friends, and men themselves, the perception that eating disorders are a "female disease," the need to live up to a "strong man" image, and a sense of isolation. Feedback interviews with three of the men reinforced this input. The implications of this research for health professionals include the need for further self-education about males with eating disorders and recognition of the signs in male clients. For men with eating disorders, the implications lie in becoming aware of available treatment options and written information. Recommendations for developing resources include increasing awareness of eating disorders in men and using gender neutral resources for eating disorders education. Overcoming barriers to increase resource accessibility for males includes communicating availability, encouraging males to come forward with eating problems, and educating the public on eating disorders.