For every mental health concern or mental disorder there is, you’d be surprised to learn there are people who are okay living with it. So much so, that some groups have come out in support of their disorder, helping reinforce their own and others’ behaviors.

In a free society, we can’t stop such groups. But as they become more prevalent, they also become more well-known. And then some people get outraged that such groups could be “allowed” to exist, and all heck breaks loose.

Newsweek has the story this week on one set of these groups, pro-anorexia (“pro-ana”) sites that help people with anorexia learn better ways to basically starve themselves. While these groups have existed online for over a decade (and probably longer), they’re now becoming more mainstream (if such a term is appropriate in this context). The have even occasionally popped up on Facebook (even though they are against Facebook’s Terms of Service, and get quickly quashed when discovered).

Pro-anorexia, or “pro-ana,” Web sites (with more than one using the “Ana Boot Camp” name) have for years been a controversial Internet fixture, with users sharing extreme diet tips and posting pictures of emaciated girls under headlines such as “thinspiration.” But what was unusual about the site mentioned above (which is no longer available) was where it was hosted: the ubiquitous social networking site Facebook.com. The (largely female) users who frequent pro-ana sites have typically done so anonymously, posting under pseudonyms and using pictures of fashion models to represent themselves. Now, as the groups increasingly launch pages on Facebook, linking users’ real-life profiles to their eating disorders, the heated conversation around anorexia has become more public. Many pro-ana Facebookers say the groups provide an invaluable support system to help them cope with their disease, but psychologists worry that the growth of such groups could encourage eating disorders in others.

These groups are a little disturbing, especially as you read through the postings. But no more so than the dozens of self-harm sites online, or the sites devoted to helping people be more successful in suicide. Or a dozen other topics that if you learned you could join a group that was “pro” that, you’d be saying to yourself, “Really? Wow.”

That is, after all, the nature of the Internet. It allows for people with very diverse wants and needs to find one another and hook up with one another far more easily than has ever been possible previously in human culture. The fact that some of these wants and needs are outside of the mainstream norm is not at all surprising.

So what does all of this do for people? Isn’t allowing people to discuss their pro-ana needs just plain harmful and potentially dangerous? Not necessarily:

Marcia Herrin, a Dartmouth professor who has written several books on eating disorders, finds the public nature of the discussions of anorexia on Facebook encouraging, because it shows that teens are less afraid of confronting eating disorders.

The more “out in the open” these kinds of concerns become, the more society learns and can answer the kinds of information (or mis-information) they promote. If more teens feel comfortable talking about eating disorders, then perhaps more will also feel comfortable asking for help when they notice themselves or a close friend who might be going down that road. And while in an ideal world, we’d prefer a teen or child not have to go down that road to learn for themselves, sometimes experience is the only teacher that can make a difference.

Read the full article: Out of the Shadows

 


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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 Nov 2008
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2008). Pro-Anorexia Groups Coming Out. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/11/23/pro-anorexia-groups-coming-out/

 

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