The Connection: What to Know About Suicide and Eating Disorders

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Eating disorders (EDs) can be part of a larger complex mental health issue, as there can be a high tendency for the simultaneous presence of another chronic condition in a patient.

Not only do eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, but 30 percent of anorexic patients and 23 percent of bulimics reported a history of suicidal attempts, according to Eating Disorders Review.

Anorexia nervosa is deadlier than any psychiatric disorder, a review of nearly half a century of research confirms. Reasons for death include starvation, substance abuse, and suicide. Depression has a higher co-occurrence with both anorexia and bulimia, Dr. Stephanie Setliff, Medical Director of Eating Recovery Center, Dallas, says. “Cardiac disease with electrolyte abnormalities, which could result in cardiac arrest, is the leading cause of death among people with anorexia nervosa,” she adds.

Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the country – 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men have it. A person can consume between 10,000 and 20,000 calories worth of food during a binge. In comparison, a normal diet for an average person is about 2,000 calories a day.

The binge-purge subtype, seems to have a higher number of suicide attempts. When depression, impulsivity, and severe dissatisfaction with one’s physical appearance are involved, the numbers tend to increase. “Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder (BED) tend to have more prevalence of depression among all eating disorders,” Dr. Setliff says.

Eating disorders arise from a combination of behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, and social factors, according to Dr. Setliff. Feelings people with the condition share are guilt, helplessness, and sadness.  All of these usually lead them to eat more, never ending the vicious cycle. Studies have shown that patients experience more stress and irregular sleep patterns and think of suicide more often.

Hiding weight loss by wearing bulky clothes, developing new food rituals and frequent or consistent denying of hunger urges, Dr. Setliff says, are a few common behaviors of patients.

In the U.S., 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. The condition often occurs with one or more other psychiatric disorders, making treatment complicated. Hospitalizations are often required but the recovery rate is high, Dr. Setliffsays.

Click her to read about the connection between suicide and eating disorders

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