We wanted to gather views from diverse and lesser heard groups of young people on FREED – First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders.

FREED is a targeted service for 16 to 25-year-olds who have had an eating disorder for three years or less. There are support services for eating disorders available to people of all ages in Buckinghamshire. However, young people getting help for eating disorders through FREED get rapid access to professional support.

What we did

The views that we heard were not from FREED service users. The people we spoke to had never heard of FREED. We ran a series of five focus groups during December 2022 and January 2023. We worked in partnership with:

  • SV2G (St Vincent and the 2nd Generation) – an African and Caribbean Arts and Heritage organisation based in High Wycombe. SV2G offers a range of creative arts and heritage programmes that empower and develop young people of various diverse backgrounds.
  • Khepera CIC – a health and wellbeing organisation supporting young people and their families.

Focus group facilitators explained the FREED service model to young people before asking questions. In total, thirty-three young people took part in these sessions.

Key findings

  • Overall, young people would recommend the FREED service to others.
  • There was a concern that FREED service delivery times were too long and that a triage approach could work better i.e., call within 48 hours and simultaneous assessment.
  • Young people were more likely to speak to a friend rather than go to a doctor if they thought that they had an eating disorder.
  • A fear of being labelled would stop people from seeking professional help.
  • There was stigma around prescribed medication.
  • Gender-neutral communication for promoting the FREED service was preferred.

Our recommendations

We recommend that Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Community Mental Health Teams, enhance awareness by:

  • Developing referral partnerships with youth organisations in Buckinghamshire
  • Linking with local educational and training providers
  • Distributing FREED leaflets in General Practices across Buckinghamshire. First point of contact in the health care system is likely to be in General Practices
  • Targeting FREED promotion in community settings such as youth clubs, leisure centres, further education colleges
  • Using digital platforms to inform young people, educators and local organisations about the service.

Communicating with young people about FREED

We recommend that the FREED service should use:

  • Gender-neutral images and language. The younger generation is more open and accepting of gender fluidity. This also breaks down stereotypes that only females experience issues with eating
  • Positive words to inform young people about the FREED service with choices and alternative paths to seek help
  • Increased emphasis on talking treatments. There are no specific drugs to treat eating disorders. However, focus groups highlighted a fear of being put on medication as part of the treatment process
  • Clear messaging about confidentiality and handling of personal information.


FREED – highlights report
FREED – full report
FREED – printable highlights report
Response to our report from OHFT

Published on 4 May, 2023

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