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The Connection Between Suicide and Eating Disorders


Nov. 23 is International Survivors of Suicide Day, an observance created to inform the public about the high risks of suicide, the signs and what can be done to prevent it.

The correlation between eating disorders and suicide may not be clear to many, but current research shows that teens aged 13 to 18 who suffer from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders are more likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts, anxiety disorders and substance abuse.

Teens and Suicide

A study carried out in 2001 throughout the United States looked at the correlation between suicide and eating disorders. As part of the study, teens were asked if they had ever had an eating disorder, and if they had had one within the past 12 months. Out of the teens who were surveyed, 0.3 percent reported that they suffered from anorexia, and about 0.9 percent stated they struggled with bulimia. Additionally, 1.6 percent of teens surveyed said they struggled with binge eating disorder.

One-third of teens who struggled with bulimia stated that they had actually attempted suicide before. About 15 percent of those with binge eating issues and about 8 percent of those with anorexia had attempted suicide as well. Furthermore, it was found that the teens struggling with eating disorder behaviors were also plagued by a myriad of other mental health problems. Out of the teens who reported suffering from an eating disorder, 55 to 88 percent of them also reported that they struggled with anxiety, depression and other behavioral disorders.

Binge Eating, Suicide and Race

A more recent study published in 2013 found that African American girls who experienced depressive and anxious symptoms were often dissatisfied with their bodies and were more likely to display binge eating behaviors. Dr. Rashelle Musci, who conducted this study, claims that the combination of these behaviors put these girls at risk of displaying internalizing symptoms such as suicide.

Musci and her team investigated how depressive and anxious symptoms may be precursors to binge eating and suicidal behaviors in 313 black females. Musci and her colleagues found that adolescent girls with serious binge eating behaviors also reported more suicide attempts. The authors of the study concluded that although more research needs to done on the subject, their findings could lead to more promising prevention programs that take binge eating into consideration.

What to Look Out For

If you are concerned that a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder could also be struggling with thoughts of suicide, here is a list of the warning signs you can look out for:

  • Talking about wanting to kill him or herself, or talking about a specific suicide plan
  • Looking for a way to kill him or herself, such as hoarding medicine
  • Feeling hopeless, trapped, desperate or having no reason to live
  • Feeling like he or she needs to escape from an intolerable situation
  • Feeling like he or she is a burden to others
  • Having intense anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Losing interest in things, or losing the ability to experience pleasure in things he or she loved
  • Suffering from insomnia
  • Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family and others
  • Acting irritable or agitated
  • Showing rage, or talking about seeking revenge for being victimized or rejected

Remember that there is hope and that suicide can be prevented if you catch any of these signs.

Sources: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and