September is National Suicide Prevention Month, which makes it an important time to discuss the link between eating disorders and suicide. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Each day, nearly 123 Americans die by suicide — meaning there is a death by suicide every 12 minutes.
Unfortunately, those of us in the field of eating disorder treatment are very much aware of these statistics. Per a study highlighted in a recent article, the suicide rate among individuals with eating disorders is higher than the general population. Additionally, suicide is the most common non-natural cause of death for those with eating disorders.
The Link Between Eating Disorders, Depression, and Suicide
It is common for those with eating disorders to experience depression, which can further increase their risk of suicide. In fact, about 90 percent of individuals who die by suicide have a mental health disorder — including an eating disorder, depression, bi-polar disorder, substance abuse disorder, or a combination of two or more conditions — at the time of their death. Thus, it’s important to recognize concerning symptoms and appropriately treat the underlying illnesses.
If you or a loved one feels lost, sad, or hopeless, use this free screening tool to check for depression. Getting help is essential. Some possibilities include reaching out to:
- A primary care physician: A primary care physician can assist with referrals to mental health specialists. In some cases, they may prescribe anti-depressant medication as well.
- Mental health providers: Make an appointment with a social worker, mental health counselor, psychologist, or nurse practitioner. Psychology Today has a robust list of providers, searchable by location.
- A community health center: A local health center often has a variety of resources and may also be able to assist with financial limitations.
- Local hospitals and medical schools: Consider joining a research study to gain access to free evaluation and treatment.
Suicide Warning Signs
Below, we list some warning signs that may indicate someone is at risk for suicide.
- Talking about wanting to die or killing oneself
- Looking for ways to commit suicide, including searching online or buying a gun
- Sharing feelings of hopelessness or having no reason to live
- Feeling trapped or in immense pain
- Talking about being a burden to loved ones
- Behaving recklessly or acting anxious and/or agitated
- Showing rage and/or talking about seeking revenge
- Acting withdrawn or feeling isolated and alone
- Exhibiting extreme mood swings
- Changes in sleeping patterns (i.e. too little or too much)
- Increasing alcohol and/or drug intake
- Obsession with death and dying
- General loss of interest in important things
- Visiting or calling family and friends to say goodbye
- Making arrangements (i.e. setting one’s affairs in orders, giving away prized possessions)
- Showing sudden signs of being happier and calmer (i.e. feeling “at peace” after making the decision to end one’s life)
If someone is experiencing a psychiatric emergency, please take them to the nearest emergency room, call 911, and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For additional resources, please visit SAVE: Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder and suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors, please reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss treatment options.