What’s the connection between eating disorders and suicide?

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September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to join and promote suicide prevention awareness. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and it is a leading cause of premature death among individuals suffering from an eating disorder, a mental illness with the highest mortality rate.

Who is at risk?

Studies have shown that individuals with anorexia have the highest rate of completed suicide, while those with bulimia have the highest number of attempts.

There is a greater risk for suicide in those struggling with anorexia who are:

  • Older
  • Low in weight
  • Struggle with substance abuse

There is a greater risk of suicide attempts in those struggling with bulimia who have:

  • Co-morbid psychiatric diagnosis
  • History of physical or sexual abuse

Individuals suffering from an eating disorder often struggle with mood related disorders and depression, increasing suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. It is also important to remember that eating disorders can leave an individual feeling unworthy and hopeless, which increases suicidal thoughts.

What should I know?

First, we need to know the warning signs and risk factors. The risk can be greater is a behavior is new or has increased or is related to a traumatic event, loss, or change.

Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt, or die by suicide.

  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Major physical illnesses
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of relationship(s)
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Local clusters of suicide
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Stigma associated with asking for help
  • Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Cultural and religious beliefs
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media)

Warning signs may help to 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 is preventable and requires all of us to play a part. You alone can make the difference in someone’s life by just starting the conversation.

There are five action steps you can take to communicate with someone who may be suicidal.

  1. Ask and Listen. By asking the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?” shows that you are open to speaking to them about their feelings. It can open the door for an effective dialogue and lead to other questions such as, “How do you hurt?” and “How can I help?” Remember – do not judge and never promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret. Listen to their answers and take them seriously. Help them focus on their reasons for living but try not to impose your reasons for them to stay alive.
  2. Keep them safe. After determining that someone is considering suicide, it is important to establish safety. Have they tried to kill themselves before? 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 of danger.
  3. Be there. Whether you are there for someone physically, by the phone, or another supportive way, you must make sure to follow through in the way you said you would support them. Do not commit to anything you are willing or unable to accomplish. Being there for someone can limit their isolation and be a protective factor against suicide.
  4. Help them connect. Help someone find ongoing supports, such as resources in their community or a mental health professional. Also, work with them to develop a safety plan, which includes a list of individuals to contact when a crisis occurs.
  5. Follow up. After you talk to someone and connect them to immediate support, you need to continue to follow up with them. Continuing dialog with them increases their feelings of connection and support.

Magnolia Creek Offers Support  

Someone who is suffering from an eating disorder and considering suicide may need additional treatment and support. Our team of professionals works with our clients to create a customized treatment plan to help them recover from their eating disorder. Magnolia Creek is dually licensed as an eating disorder and mental health treatment center and can tailor a dual diagnosis treatment plan for co-occurring mental health conditions such as mood disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, attachment disorder, and personality disorders.  Our strength-based and collaborative program offers traditional group and individual therapy combined with experiential therapies such as art, yoga, recreational, and cooking groups with helps individuals heal holistically and practice learned coping skills.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder or having suicidal thoughts, we can help. Call us today at 205-409-4220 or complete our contact form for more information. Suicide is preventable, and we must start the conversation and be present for those who need help.


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