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The Link Between Eating Disorders and Suicide – Guest Post

If you haven’t noticed, I’m big on sharing information about mental illnesses. Eating disorders are a mental illness. While in the hospital the first time, I saw many young women with eating disorders. They looked like living skeletons. They had to be on specific diets because their bodies simply couldn’t process normal foods (like the yummy cookies we all ordered extra of) like the rest of us patients. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, I beg you, please seek help. If someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, please encourage them to get help.

*This is a guest post from Steve Johnson of PublicHealthLibrary.org*

Did you know that people with eating disorders are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and behaviors than the general population? In fact, people with anorexia are actually 31 times more likely to make a fatal suicide attempt, and people with bulimia are 7 and a half times more likely. Many don’t realize just how common it is, but suicide among people with eating disorders is more common than in people with other mental health disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

The Link Between Eating Disorders and Suicide

An overview of eating disorders

Eating disorders are considered to be mental health conditions and often occur in people with depression, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse. Treating the other mental illnesses can help in treating the eating disorder, especially because some symptoms of the eating disorder may be caused by them.

Eating disorders occur when people become preoccupied with food and weight issues and can’t focus on other parts of their lives. Eating disorders may completely overtake a person’s life and contribute to fatal medical complications, as well as emotional and physical problems. People with eating disorders have extreme food and weight issues.

Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder (BED).

  • Anorexia nervosa – People with anorexia deny themselves food and reach self-starvation as they obsess about weight loss. People with anorexia refuse to eat, deny hunger, exercise until exhaustion, and yo-yo between binge eating and purging.
  • Bulimia nervosa – Individuals with bulimia binge on large quantities of food in a short period and then induce vomiting, use laxatives, or exercise excessively to burn the extra calories. People with bulimia often have low self-esteem, worry about their body image, feel as though they are out of control, and feel guilty about eating to the point of withdrawing from friends and family.
  • Binge eating disorder (BED) – Someone with binge eating disorder loses control over eating. People with BED eat excessive amounts of food in short amounts of time, even when they are full or not hungry. People with this type of eating disorder do not purge or exercise excessively and often are overweight or obese.

Anorexia and risk of suicide

Many people who suffer from anorexia die due to heart attack or starvation. Suicide is also a danger for those with anorexia, and the suicide mortality rate among people with anorexia is highest among all psychiatric illnesses. People with anorexia suffer greatly, which leads to their suicide ideation. One study found that people with anorexia attempt suicide in more violent ways, including jumping in front of trains, ingesting chemicals, self-immolation.

Bulimia and risk of suicide

People who struggle with bulimia also have a higher risk of suicide, as determined by a study by researchers from Florida State University. Among those who participated, 27.9% of students with an eating disorder history experienced serious suicidal thoughts, including forming specific plans or attempting suicide. The highest rates of suicidal risk occurred in people with bulimia, at 45.2%, while those with anorexia had a 34.6% risk and those with BED had a 27.9% risk.

Binge eating disorder and risk of suicide

Binge eating disorder is associated with a higher risk of suicide. Research finds that more than 30% of women with binge eating disorder and nearly 20% with subthreshold binge eating disorder had suicidal thoughts, and approximately 15% of women with binge eating disorder had attempted suicide.

Eating disorders, addiction, and suicide

Eating disorders are directly linked to substance abuse; it’s estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder, and 7 million of those are women. 1 in 200 women suffers from anorexia, and 3 in 100 women suffer from bulimia. Eating disorders are often fatal; in fact, they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. In the United States, people with eating disorders abuse drugs and/or alcohol 5 times more often than the general population, as about half of people with eating disorders abuse substances. People who suffer from substance abuse and eating disorders are more prone to suicidal thoughts because they have low self-worth and often are depressed. Drugs and alcohol worsen depression and often cause people to act irrationally, which results in higher suicide attempts.

If your loved one has an eating disorder, it’s really important that she receives treatment before both her emotional and physical health are critically damaged. Keep in mind there are often underlying mental health issues that also require treatment when people suffer from eating disorders. If your loved one is showing signs of substance abuse or suicide, she needs professional help sooner rather than later, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

 

Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org as part of a school project. He and a fellow pre-med student enjoyed working on the site so much that they decided to keep it going. Their goal is to make PublicHealthLibrary.org one of the go-to sources for health and medical information on the web.

 

Image via Pixabay by RyanMcGuire

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