Trauma Response Warning: This article contains discussions about suicide
Individuals with eating disorders may experience a psychological toll that can lead to devasting consequences, including suicidality. The week of September 4th through 10th is National Suicide Prevention Week, an initiative that aims to raise awareness about prevalence of suicidality and ways it can be prevented. Research shows that among individuals with mental health diagnoses, those with eating disorders have the highest suicide rates (Discovery Contributor, 2021).
To prevent suicide among individuals with eating disorders it is important to explore the prevalence of suicidality and relevant risk factors. One study found that individuals with anorexia nervosa have the highest suicide rate with 20-43% of individuals reporting suicidal thoughts and contemplations compared to 21-23% of individuals with bulimia nervosa and 21-23% of individuals with binge eating disorders (Muhlheim, 2021). Moreover, individuals with anorexia are 18 times more likely to commit suicide compared to the general population (Muhlheim, 2021). There are fewer studies exploring the correlation between suicide and bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder, though these disorders are linked to elevated risks of suicide (Muhlheim, 2021).
Co-occurring mental health diagnoses for individuals with eating disorders are not uncommon, and often increase the risk of suicide ideation (Eating Disorder Hope, 2021). For instance, it is estimated that between 50-75% of individuals with eating disorders will experience depressive symptoms (Eating Disorder Hope, 2021). Experiencing both depression and an eating disorder increases vulnerability to suicidality as individuals may experience negative body image, feelings of guilt, and overall lower self-esteem (Discovery Contributor, 2021; Eating Disorder Hope, 2021). Despite these challenges, there is hope for individuals experiencing eating disorders and suicidal ideations. Resources, support, and care are available to help you or someone you know overcome these feelings.
If you are experiencing suicidality:
- Access your support system. A valuable resource is talking through thoughts and processing feelings with a trusted and non-biased support system, including a licensed therapist or guidance counselor.
- Call a suicide hotline or crisis line. Reaching out to hotlines and crisis lines connects you with trained individuals who can provide immediate support.
- Attend therapy groups. Find a therapeutic group to create a social support system and build strong and meaningful connections with individuals experiencing similar feelings of suicidality.
If someone you know is experiencing suicidality:
- Offer support. Simply listening and providing assurance and comfort when needed can go a long way. Be mindful of eating disorder diagnoses. Creating a safe environment for food and validating their feelings is essential for being a support system. Creating a safe environment for someone may help them feel seen and heard.
- Share available resources. Inform them of available resources that can help them manage suicidality and disordered eating.
Here is a brief list of available resources:
- National Suicide Hotline: 988
- Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741-741
- Immediate Medical Emergency: 911
Depression and eating disorders. Eating Disorder Hope. (2021, December 3). Retrieved from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/co-occurring-dual-diagnosis/depression
Discovery Contributor. (2021, March 30). Suicide and eating disorders: A co-occurring condition. Center For Discovery Eating Disorder Treatment. Retrieved from https://centerfordiscovery.com/blog/suicide-eating-disorders-co-occurring-condition
Muhlheim, L. (2021, April 29). Eating Disorders and Suicide Risk. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/eating-disorders-suicide-4174291
By Arsema Temesgen
Arsema is a second year at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in Human Development and Family Science, and she starts working as a research assistant in the Living F.R.E.E. Lab this semester.