A worrisome new study challenges assumptions that the high suicide rate among anorexics can be explained by compromised physical health that leads to death from the slightest attempt.
In the new investigation, University of Vermont researchers discovered anorexics who are suicidal use highly lethal methods suggesting an overwhelming wish to die.
The research was innovative as psychiatrists and other doctors have long observed that people with anorexia nervosa die by suicide at surprisingly high rates, there had been no data about what methods they were using to kill themselves. The assumption was often that these are people on the verge of death anyway; they are so malnourished and underweight that the smallest suicide attempt could easily lead to death.
Jill Holm-Denoma, lead author and assistanct professor of psychology suggests a different explanation. Among anorexics who commit suicide, the methods used tend to be overwhelmingly lethal in conjunction with a low potential for being rescued, means that would be likely to kill anyone. She found that women (the vast majority of people who suffer from anorexia) were burning themselves, jumping in front of trains and hanging themselves, among other extreme acts.
“I wouldn’t say that a defining feature of anorexia is a wish to die,” says Holm-Denoma, “but among the subgroup of people with anorexia who attempt suicide, they have a strong wish to die and they engage in an act of self injury that has a very high likelihood of killing them right away.”
Holm-Denoma, an expert on treating eating disorders, is available to discuss this research as well as other aspects of eating disorders. Approximately one percent of adolescent and young adult females suffer from anorexia and about twice as many have bulimia.
And the population of people with eating disorders is growing outside of the traditional group, notably young, white, middle- to- upper- middle-class women. According to Holm-Denoma, as racial and ethnic minorities, as well as older women, are increasingly becoming media targets for the thin ideal, clinicians are seeing a rise in eating disorders from groups once thought to be protected.
Both anorexia and bulimia are also associated with high rates of mood, anxiety, substance use and personality disorders. A third category of eating disorder, binge eating, afflicts up to four percent of the population, and affects men and women equally. The combined effects take a huge toll. Anorexia, in fact, has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
Source: University of Vermont