Eating disorders

Mental health

At a glance

How could difficulty managing emotions lead to self-harm and eating disorders?

Lead researcher

Dr Helen Bould


University of Bristol



Amount awarded


Last updated



Up to half of those with an eating disorder also self-harm. However, we know little about why these mental health conditions often occur together.

One reason might be that some risk factors for eating disorders and self-harm are the same. One characteristic, seen in both conditions, is difficulty managing emotions. However, it is not known whether individuals with an eating disorder find managing emotions difficult because they have an eating disorder, or whether difficulty managing emotions is one of the reasons they develop an eating disorder. Similar gaps in our knowledge exist in relation to people who engage in self-harm.

Dr Helen Bould’s research team from the University of Bristol aims to enhance understanding about how difficulty managing emotions leads to the development of self-harm and eating disorders. The research could help identify early signs of risk of self-harm or an eating disorder and potentially aid the development of new treatments.

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The more that we can understand about how disordered eating and self-harm come about, the better we can get at both preventing them and developing new treatments. Dr Helen Bould, University of Bristol

Mental health - Eating disorders and self-harm

  • Why is there a need to fund new research?

    Despite an increase in young people affected by eating disorders and self-harm, there is still limited research focusing on what causes these devastating mental health problems. As many as one in six teenagers have self-harmed at some point, and self-harm is the strongest known risk factor for suicide. Eating disorders are also common, affecting around 15 per cent of young women and over three per cent of young men.

    Although up to half of people with an eating disorder have self-harmed, we also know little about why these mental health problems often occur together.

    Building on a previous £1.3 million investment in eating disorders and self-harm research by the Foundation and the MRC (part of UK Research and Innovation), these new research projects will improve our understanding of what causes these conditions and ultimately, it is hoped these insights will lead to earlier intervention and better treatments.

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