Understanding how social identity and stigma are related to and affect people with eating disorders is the area of focus for Dr Joanne Rathbone, an Early Career Researcher (ECR) at the Australian National University (ANU) School of Medicine and Psychology.
Although she only received her PhD award in November 2021, Dr Rathbone has already published 16 academic papers, six of which are first-author publications in high impact journals.
One of her current studies is seeking to understand the social barriers to support, help seeking and recovery for people experiencing eating disorder symptoms.
Dr Rathbone advised, “It is currently estimated that 16% of the Australian population (ie. >4 million people) engage in disordered eating but less than 15% of people with an eating disorder seek and receive treatment each year.”
“Research shows that social support is a critical part of the help-seeking and recovery process for people with eating disorders. However, we don’t know enough about the barriers or facilitators of effective social support as yet.”
“When there isn’t effective social support, people with eating disorders can spiral into a cycle that maintains the disorder and continues the experience of social isolation,” Dr Rathbone added.
The study - which has been co-designed with a person with lived experience of an eating disorder - is a strong demonstration of research that sits at the intersection of social psychology and health and medicine with Dr Rathbone collaborating with researchers from multiple disciplines and institutions.
With its strong focus on filling a gap in the knowledge base for eating disorder treatment, the project was chosen as the recipient of the 2023 Smithson Micro-Grant Scheme.
The Smithson Grant offers ECRs in the field of psychology seed funding for a research project in order to advance their career.
Emeritus Professor Smithson, the donor of the scheme, explained, “In retirement I wanted to give back to psychology at the ANU, which had been my home for 25 years.”
“I figured that a research grant would be the most productive gift to improve prospects for ECRs as they often do not have access to sufficient resources for generating a track-record that can win major grants such as in the ARC and NHMRC schemes.”
Emeritus Professor Smithson continued, “My hope is that the Smithson Micro-Grant Scheme will boost ECRs’ careers by enabling recipients to complete research that otherwise would ‘stay on the drawing-board’, thereby moving them a few steps closer to securing category-one grants.”
Dr Rathbone said of her grant, “The Smithson Micro-Grant Scheme will support me in leading this new area of research and lay the foundations for a larger program of research on social identity, stigma, and mental health.”