Suicide and Eating Disorders
By Jessica Carter
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to draw attention to suicide and promote prevention awareness because the facts are sobering:
- Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall and the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24, but research also shows that suicide is the leading cause of premature death among those with an eating disorder.
- Those with a history of an eating disorder have a higher number of suicide attempts.
- While individuals suffering from Anorexia have the highest rate of completed suicide, those with binge eating disorder and bulimia have a higher rate of suicide attempts.
- According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, just over 30% of those with a history of bulimia, as well as, over 20% of those with a history of binge eating disorder have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.
Who is at risk?
Research has shown that those suffering from an eating disorder are at an elevated risk for attempting suicide. When looking at the details, those at a greater risk appear to be individuals who are:
- Significantly lower in weight
- Struggle synonymously with substance abuse
For those suffering from Bulimia, the risk appears greater with:
- Co-occurring psychiatric diagnosis
- History of physical or sexual abuse
Suicide ideation and suicide attempts are also increased when an eating disorder co-occurs with other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and/or substance use. Eating disorders often leave individuals feeling unworthy and hopeless, which also can lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
What should I know?
With suicide being the second leading cause of death for those ages 10-24, as well as the distinct correlation between suicide and eating disorders, it is essential that parents and loved ones understand the risk factors and warning signs. Below are documented risk factors for considering, attempting, and completing suicide.
- Psychological disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
- History of trauma or abuse
- Long-term physical illnesses
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- Family history of suicide
- Job or financial loss
- Loss of relationship(s)
- Easy access to lethal means
- Lack of social support and social of isolation
- Stigma associated with asking for help
- Lack of healthcare, especially mental health, and substance use treatment
- Cultural and religious beliefs
- Exposure to others who have died by suicide
These warning signs may also help determine if someone is at risk for suicide.
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Extreme mood swings
How can I help?
Suicide awareness and prevention requires all of us to play a part. We can make a difference in someone’s life by starting a conversation and lending an active listening ear. Think about some of these strategies that can help you navigate the conversation:
- Ask and Listen. By asking questions shows that you are open and want to talk about their feelings. Open the door for effective dialogue by asking, “Are you thinking about suicide?” This question can lead to further discussion about how they are hurting, why they feel suicide is the answer, and how you can help. Listen to them in a serious, no judgmental manner. Help them focus on their reasons for living, not yours, and try not to impose your reasons for them to stay alive. Remember – do not promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret.
- Keep them safe. It is important to establish safety after you determine someone is seriously considering suicide. Have they tried to kill themselves in the past? Do they have a detailed plan or know how they would kill themselves? What type of access do they have for their method? Knowing the answers to these questions can determine the level of severity.
- Discuss media messages. Today, we are inundated by television programs, movies, and social media sending messages of the perfect body. These messages often glamorize eating disorders, as well as suicide. Encourage your loved one to question what they have seen or heard and have open and honest communication about the danger of some of these messages.
- Be supportive. Follow through with your loved one and be supportive. Do not commit to anything you are willing or unable to accomplish. Being supportive helps to limit their isolation and be a protective factor against suicide.
- Continue the conversation. After you talk, continue the conversation. Continued engagement increases their feelings of connection and support.
- Foster self-esteem. Support your loved one by listening when they speak. Remind them that your love and acceptance are unconditional.
Selah House Offers Freedom
Individuals who struggle with an eating disorder often face other mental health problems and may need additional treatment and support. At Selah House, we provide evidence-based care for adults and adolescents in a healing environment that helps them find freedom from eating disorders.
We focus on higher levels of care and offer a clear step-down process so that clients and their families feel supported during the treatment process and once they return home. Our individualized based treatment plan is designed to meet each client’s needs, contributing to overall health and wellness, and ultimate recovery. We value the importance of family involvement in our treatment setting. For this reason, we view the family as an integral part of the treatment team and encourage their involvement before, during, and aftercare with us. Our goal is to walk alongside our clients and families in their recovery journey and help our clients find sustainable freedom from Eating Disorders.
If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, we are here and ready to help. Contact our Admission team with One Call, Many Solutions at (765) 641-0022 or feel free to visit our website at www.selahhouse.com and complete our contact form.