Anorexia has the greatest mortality rate of any psychological disorder, but the medical effects of low body weight are not the only cause of death. Suicide is also a danger.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, suicide is the cause of death for as many as half of anorexia sufferers, surpassing the number of deaths from starvation. The Medical Center also reports that up to one in five anorexics attempt suicide while they have the disorder.
Researchers have found that when a person with anorexia decides to end their life, they will often use a highly lethal method that will guarantee death. A study completed by researchers at the University of Vermont and reported in Time indicates that anorexics attempt suicide because they have a genuine desire to die and not because they are seeking attention. Jill Holm-Denoma, lead author of the study, states that one of the defining characteristics of anorexia is a wish to die.
The study analyzed the cases of nine anorexics who had committed suicide and found that the patients isolated themselves before taking their own lives, apparently to reduce the chances of receiving life-saving help. The suicide methods used by the test cases included jumping in front of a moving train, ingesting poison, drug overdose, carbon monoxide poisoning and hanging. The methods had little to do with the anorexics’ eating disorder and could have ended anyone’s life.
One of the most striking aspects of this statistic is that between 85 and 95 percent of people with anorexia are women, yet among the general population men are four times more likely to commit suicide. The implication is that women with anorexia are far more likely to attempt and succeed in committing suicide.
An earlier study completed at Harvard University concluded that women with anorexia have self-destructive tendencies that lead them to abuse alcohol and drugs as well as attempt suicide. It has also been suggested that anorexics become accustomed to pain and immune to the fear of death. Between 25 and 50 percent of anorexics engage in self-harm practices like cutting and self-induced vomiting.
According to Holm-Denoma, “Anorexia is one of the most serious psychiatric problems our society faces. Our work shows even further that more needs to be done to prevent it.” Until more is known about how to prevent anorexia, treatment providers and family members of anorexics must be on the alert for signs of suicide among patients who are suffering from eating disorders. Addressing the underlying psychiatric issues of anorexics should take priority even over their issues with food.