It is a sad reality that people with eating disorders are at a significantly higher risk of suicide. This is particularly true for people with Anorexia Nervosa. Anorexia has one of the highest death rates of any mental illness and research suggests that 1 in 5 of those deaths is from suicide.
While the reasons that people take their own lives are complex, there are a number of factors that may increase the risk. These include the severity and duration of the eating disorder, substance abuse, excessive exercise and impulsive behaviour.
To further increase risk, people with eating disorders are likely to have co-morbid depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol issues.
The good news is that beyondblue has an app, BeyondNow, that can help people with eating disorders, and their loved ones, navigate the tough moments.
The app is free and can be accessed on a number of platforms.
When in a calm and settled head space, BeyondNow prompts the user to create a plan for when they may be heading towards a suicidal crisis. The plan involves identifying warning signs and triggers unique to the user, and creating a list of reasons to live and people to reach out to.
Safety planning can be a very effective tool to help people reduce their immediate risk of suicidal behaviour. To maximise the app's effectiveness, it is recommended the plan be sent to health professionals and loved ones who can offer vital support when challenging times arise.
It is important to be aware that risk of suicide can increase as eating disorder symptoms improve. This is often because the person’s emotional pain is no longer being masked or avoided by eating disorder behaviours. Often suicide stems from the person feeling desperate to end their emotional pain, but not knowing how to effectively deal with distressing feelings. It is important to monitor this risk throughout recovery from an eating disorder.
For more information and tips on what to do if you think someone is at risk, check out this fact sheet: Eating Disorders: Understanding Suicide and Self Harm.