Eating Disorder Stigma in Schools: Equipping Ontario Teachers to Better Support Student Mental Health

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Raab, Alyssa
Eating Disorders (EDs) are serious mental health disorders that involve a disturbance in eating and eating-related behaviours (American Psychiatric Association, 2022); however, research finds that teachers and other educators report concerning lacks in knowledge, training, and confidence related to EDs in their schools (Harshbarger et al., 2011; Knightsmith et al., 2013; Knightsmith et al., 2014). In a study on school pupils, students referenced fear of stigma as a barrier to seeking support from a teacher regarding EDs (Knightsmith et al., 2014a). This finding is unsurprising given the research that demonstrates the prevalence of eating disorder (ED) stigma and the harmful consequences it has on individuals affected by EDs (Doley et al., 2017; Foran et al., 2020; Griffiths et al., 2018). Therefore, the purpose of this major research project is to increase teachers’ knowledge and understanding of EDs and ED stigma by creating a teacher resource on EDs and ED stigma. This major research project is guided by a created conceptual framework informed by a review of relevant literature that outlines teachers’ current roles related to EDs in schools, including identifying behaviours, supporting students, and preventing ED onset, as well as the restricting factors to effectively partaking in these roles, such as ED stigma and a lack of knowledge and training. Further, to inform the development and creation of a teacher resource on EDs, an environmental scan was completed that systematically searched for and analyzed publicly available global grey literature on EDs and the school setting. The environmental scan located 119 resources on EDs and the school setting, which have been translated into a resource list for teacher and other education partners. The environmental scan additionally provided insight into the landscape of resources on EDs and the school setting, and allowed for an evaluation of the extent to which resources include information regarding teachers’ roles and restrictions related to EDs in schools, as outlined in the conceptual framework. From these insights, a teacher toolkit on EDs and stigma-free support was created for Ontario teachers. This toolkit will be shared with various education partners, such as teachers, schools and school boards, education faculties, student mental health organizations, and ED organizations with the goal of increasing Ontario teacher’s knowledge and confidence in supporting students affected by EDs.
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