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PLoS One. 2016 Jul 26;11(7):e0159910. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0159910. eCollection 2016.

An Exploration of Social Functioning in Young People with Eating Disorders: A Qualitative Study.

Author information

Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, United Kingdom.
Department of Psychological Medicine, Section of Eating Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, United Kingdom.
Regent's University London, Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, School of Psychotherapy and Psychology, London, United Kingdom.
Ellern Mede Service for Eating Disorders, London, United Kingdom.


Previous research indicates adults with eating disorders (EDs) report smaller social networks, and difficulties with social functioning, alongside demonstrating difficulties recognising and regulating emotions in social contexts. Concurrently, those recovered from the illness have discussed the vital role offered by social support and interaction in their recovery. To date, little is known about the social skills and social networks of adolescents with EDs and this study aimed to conduct focus groups to explore the social functioning of 17 inpatients aged 12-17. Data were analysed using thematic analysis and six core themes were identified: group belonging, self-monitoring, social sensitivity, impact of hospitalisation, limited coping strategies and strategies for service provision. Key areas for service provision were: management of anxiety, development and/or maintenance of a social network and development of inter and intrapersonal skills. The most salient finding was that adolescents with EDs reported social difficulties which appeared to persist over and above those typically experienced at this point in the lifespan and therefore a key area for future focus is the development of appropriate coping strategies and solutions to deal with these reported difficulties.

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