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What Providers Should Know About Suicide and Eating Disorders

**Content warning: This post discusses the topic of suicide. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness and suicide prevention efforts. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and those who have an eating disorder are particularly vulnerable to the risk. This blog will break down the different types of eating disorders and the link between suicide and eating disorders, as well as warning signs for suicide.

What Are Eating Disorders?

There are over 30 million individuals who are struggling with an eating disorder in the United States. Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, size, or any other social category. For some, they can be life-threatening.

Eating disorders are characterized by disturbances in an individual’s eating habits. Even when they are not fatal, they cause significant impairment to daily life and functioning. The DSM-5 has placed eating disorders into the following categories:

Anorexia Nervosa (AN):

  • Extreme food restriction that causes dramatic and prolonged weight loss in an individual
  • Typically includes body dysmorphia

Bulimia Nervosa (BN):

  • Eating then purging—once food is consumed, it is expelled by recurrent episodes of self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic use, or other methods of purging
  •  Often involves a fear of weight gain and a negative self-perception, as in anorexia

Binge Eating Disorder (BED):

  • Repeated episodes of excessive and uncontrollable food consumption without the compensatory behaviors seen in bulimia
  • Can involve eating in secret, a lack of control when eating, eating over the point of fullness, and eating at an uncomfortably fast rate

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID):

  • Involves a lack of interest in or avoidance of specific foods
  • Leads to a significant nutritional deficiency

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED):

  • Any eating disorder that causes significant distress or disturbance in the individual, but doesn’t meet the specific criteria for any of the other eating disorders

Warning Signs of Eating Disorders 

Eating disorders, unfortunately, thrive in secret, so people must pay close attention to the warning signs and symptoms. Signs of eating disorders to look out for include:

  • Dramatic weight changes
  • A change in food intake
  • Food, body, or weight-centric discussions
  • Purging, restricting, or compulsively eating food
  • Excessive exercise
  • Isolating or avoidant during mealtimes, eating in secret, or hiding food
  • Abuse of diet pills, diuretics, or laxatives
  • Denial of personal disordered eating despite concerns from friends and family
  • Medical or physical complications, such as amenorrhea, fainting, dry skin, hair loss, osteoporosis, dental problems, heart problems, or other serious symptoms due to nutritional deprivation

Eating Disorders and Suicide

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. They have the second-highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, with anorexia having the highest mortality rate among eating disorder diagnoses. Unfortunately, all other eating disorders may put an individual at risk for suicidal thoughts and actions

Research has shown those with eating disorders often present with a second disorder, such as substance use disorder, anxiety, or depression. Those who engage in eating disorder behaviors may also find themselves feeling shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. These negative emotions may exacerbate other mental health complications, such as severe depression and increased risk of suicide. The immense difficulty of living with an eating disorder in addition to another co-occurring disorder may lead to or worsen suicidal thoughts or actions.

Warning Signs of Suicidal Thinking

Be aware of others who have changes in mood and behavior. Those who communicate a feeling of hopelessness and feeling like a burden are all warning signs.

Some other warning signs include:

Health:

  • Being diagnosed with any mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, eating disorder, etc.
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Serious physical health conditions, chronic or terminal illnesses
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Physical pains and discomfort
  • Increase in headaches and migraines

Environmental:

  • Access to firearms and drugs
  • Prolonged stress
  • History of being bullied, harassed, or abused
  • Relationship problems like a breakup, divorce, or rejection
  • Financial crisis
  • Death of a friend or loved one
  • Exposure to another person’s suicide
  • Loss of a job or income

Historical:

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • Childhood neglect or trauma

Behavioral:

  • Talking about killing themselves
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • New fascination with death
  • Increased usage of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Loss of interest in favorite things
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Oversleeping or not sleeping at all
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • More agitated or irritable than normal

Recovery is Possible

Eating disorders don’t have to control anyone’s life. While complex, these illnesses are treatable with proper care. By seeking eating disorder specialty care as soon as possible, individuals can experience eating disorder recovery and live their lives free of the illness. There are also many resources for suicide prevention. If you or a loved one are experiencing an eating disorder, reach out to Veritas Collaborative at 855-875-5812.

Recovery Starts Here

If you have questions about anything - eating disorders, our programs, specific needs or concerns - or you'd like to schedule an initial phone assessment or a comprehensive in-person medical assessment, please give us a call or complete our contact form. Our Master's-Level Clinicians are here to help.

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