Do Eating Disorders Increase the Risk of Suicide?
By Lauren Krouse
Eating disorders are serious, potentially deadly medical conditions—not just because they can cause life-threatening medical problems, but also because they’re associated with a higher risk of suicide.
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or you’re worried about someone else, reach out for support as soon as possible.
Here is what you need to know about suicide and how to get help.
If you or someone you know needs help right now:
- Text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
- Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
- If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.
People with eating disorders have a much higher risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and death by suicide.
Although more research is needed, one study found adolescents with eating disorders and depression are five to six times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, and they also face a greater risk of suicide attempts.
Other factors that could put someone at a higher risk of suicide include:
- Previous suicide attempts.
- A family history of suicide.
- Chronic stress or an overwhelming personal crisis.
- Access to guns and life-threatening drugs.
Why Do People With Eating Disorders Have a Higher Risk of Suicide?
Researchers still have a lot to learn about the connection between eating disorders and suicide, and more studies are needed. Some risk factors include:
- Genetics, such as having specific genes related to eating disorders, depression, and suicide attempts.
- Living with other psychiatric conditions linked to a higher risk of suicide, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
- A history of physical or sexual abuse.
- Having a hard time regulating emotions or managing impulsiveness.
- Not having access to treatment or support for their eating disorder.
A recent study found that about 25 percent of people with anorexia, 31 percent of people with bulimia, and 23 percent of people with binge eating disorder attempt suicide, compared to only 1 percent of adults who don’t have an eating disorder or psychiatric disorder. Most were also living with depression, anxiety, substance-use problems, mood disorders, or personality disorders.
Eating Disorders Are Treatable and Suicide Is Preventable
It can be really scary when you’re worried for yourself or someone you love, and it takes a lot of courage to reach out for help. But it’s worth it. Recovery from eating disorders is possible with the right treatment and support. You deserve to be supported and feel better.
If you suspect you need help for an eating disorder, contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders helpline, which is run by licensed therapists who specialize in eating disorders.
- Call 866-662-1235 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get referrals to all levels of care. The helpline is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST Monday through Friday. If help is not immediately available, your call will be returned as soon as possible.
If you want to help someone you care about, there are steps you can take to make a difference. Learn how to help someone who may be living with an eating disorder. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re thinking about suicide, and offer your support. Learn more about signs someone could be suicidal and other risk factors for suicide.
Learn more about body image, eating disorders, and how to get help, check out:
- What Is an Eating Disorder?
- What are the Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder?
- Body Image and Eating Disorders: What’s the Connection?
- Struggling With Body Image? Body Positivity and Body Neutrality Can Help
- What Is Bulimia Nervosa and How Do I Get Help for It?
- What Is Anorexia Nervosa and How Can I Get Help for It?
- What is Binge Eating Disorder?
- How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder