The compulsory treatment of anorexia nervosa is a contentious issue. Research suggests that psychiatrists have a range of attitudes towards patients suffering from anorexia nervosa, and towards the use of compulsory treatment for the disorder.
A postal self-completed attitudinal questionnaire was sent to senior psychiatrists in the United Kingdom who were mostly general adult psychiatrists, child and adolescent psychiatrists, or psychiatrists with an interest in eating disorders.
Respondents generally supported a role for compulsory measures under mental health legislation in the treatment of patients with anorexia nervosa. Compared to 'mild' anorexia nervosa, respondents generally were less likely to feel that patients with 'severe' anorexia nervosa were intentionally engaging in weight loss behaviours, were able to control their behaviours, wanted to get better, or were able to reason properly. However, eating disorder specialists were less likely than other psychiatrists to think that patients with 'mild' anorexia nervosa were choosing to engage in their behaviours or able to control their behaviours. Child and adolescent psychiatrists were more likely to have a positive view of the use of parental consent and compulsory treatment for an adolescent with anorexia nervosa. Three factors emerged from factor analysis of the responses named: 'Support for the powers of the Mental Health Act to protect from harm'; 'Primacy of best interests'; and 'Autonomy viewed as being preserved in anorexia nervosa'. Different scores on these factor scales were given in terms of type of specialist and gender.
In general, senior psychiatrists tend to support the use of compulsory treatment to protect the health of patients at risk and also to protect the welfare of patients in their best interests. In particular, eating disorder specialists tend to support the compulsory treatment of patients with anorexia nervosa independently of views about their decision-making capacity, while child and adolescent psychiatrists tend to support the treatment of patients with anorexia nervosa in their best interests where decision-making is impaired.