It is no secret that eating disorders are associated with significantly elevated mortality rates. Sometimes, eating disorder-related deaths come about due to medical complications, but a substantial percentage are due to suicide. To offer just one sobering example: Individuals with anorexia are about 31 times more likely to make a fatal suicide attempt when compared to members of the general population. For individuals with bulimia, meanwhile, the rate is 7.5 times higher than in the general population.
These numbers show that eating disorders are life threatening, and frequently lead to individuals committing suicide. Before we can come to some preventative measures, though, we need to look at why the suicide risk is so high in the eating disorder population.
Eating Disorders and Suicide Risk
There are many myths about why eating disorders are so often linked to suicide. Some clinicians believe it comes down to the individual’s overall fragility, while others believe those who have an eating disorder effectively have a death wish. Neither of these are accurate in their grasp of why those with eating disorders are more likely than most to take their own life.
A better way to think about this is to understand that suicide is a form of “psychache”—a persistent psychological pain that can take the form of anxiety, depression, shame, fear and rejection, all rolled into one unhealthy amalgamation. This psychache, when coupled with a sense of burdensomeness and the feeling of not belonging anywhere, can lead to suicidal tendencies.
Those who struggle with an eating disorder may experience feelings of burdensomeness with regard to their treatment and recovery needs, the impact they have on family members, and more. Meanwhile, those with eating disorders often feel isolated, too, as if they do not belong to any group. At the same time, an experience with an eating disorder provides a fearlessness about death and a high threshold of pain—meaning there is a capacity for suicidal behavior. All of this creates a catalyst for self-harming behavior or suicidal thoughts.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and this topic is so vital for the eating disorder recovery community. It is important to know that eating disorders can be treated, recovery can be sustained and suicide can be prevented.
The most important element is support from friends and family members. Never abandon a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder. Never give up, and never allow them to become isolated. Offer your compassion and your understanding. Be available to talk with them. Let them know that you love them, are concerned about them, want them to get better, and believe in their ability for recovery. Also, encourage them to seek treatment, and let them know you will be with them every step of the way.
Eating disorders can destroy lives—but they do not have to. Encouragement, love and support can play a huge role in saving lives. So can treatment. Learn more about treatment, for you or for your loved one, by contacting Castlewood today. Stand against suicide by becoming an ambassador of eating disorder recovery.
Contact Castlewood to seek help for yourself or for a loved one.