Bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and anorexia nervosa are the most well known eating disorders in the United States and affect approximately 20 million women and 10 million men. These unhealthy disorders are characterized by low self-esteem, body image discrepancies, poor coping skills and severe underlying psychosocial stressors that lead to binging and purging. Self-induced vomiting, laxative and diuretic use, excessive exercise and food restriction are characteristic behaviors seen in eating disorders that result in severe weight loss and nutritional deficits leading to medical complications and even death. Depending on the specific eating disorder, the average age of onset is usually between 16-18 years of age and eating disorders usually occur for eight years after the onset. Although female adolescents and young adults are more prone to eating disorders, middle aged and older women as well as men are not left untouched. Studied have shown that women ages 30-70 admit to being dissatisfied with their weight and using diet fads to shed off pounds. Additionally inpatient eating disorder hospital admission rates for females in their 30’s are increasing drastically; making eating disorders equal-opportunity offenders by leaping the borders of both age and gender.
Eating disorders and co-occurring conditions
Individuals with eating disorders have a higher likelihood of developing other mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders. Studies have shown that individuals with eating disorders are more prone to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm behavior, and even suicide. Research has shown that approximately 50-75% of individuals with eating disorders will develop depression and 65% of individuals with eating disorders will develop an anxiety disorder that may include general anxiety disorder, social phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder. Self-harm whether it is cutting, extreme scratching, skin carving or burning occurs in 30% of females who engage in disordered eating and is also prevalent in individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD), a personality disorder characterized by unstable mood, conflicts with interpersonal relationships, and difficulty regulating emotions that has a higher prevalence in the eating disorder population compared to the general population. These co-occurring conditions in the presence of an eating disorder can increase suicidal ideations and potentially lead to an individual taking his or her own life.
Eating disorders and suicide
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide each year, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the United States and the second leading cause of death among individuals 10-24 years of age. Firearms account for 50% of suicide and women attempt suicide three times more frequently than men however men are three times more likely to die by suicide. Most often individual who have attempted or committed suicide will show warning signs however these warning signs may go unnoticed by loved ones and even health professionals. Eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa, have the highest mortality rate out of all mental health disorders. Whether it is from medical complications or suicide, eating disorders are known to kill. Studies have shown that individuals with anorexia nervosa have the highest successful suicide rates and individuals with bulimia nervosa have the greatest number of suicide attempts. Risk factors for suicide in these populations include older age, lower weight, co-occurring psychiatric condition, history of physical or sexual abuse and current substance abuse. Individuals with eating disorders often will have a false sense of reality, may feel unworthy or hopeless, battle with disordered thoughts, have feelings of being emotional trapped and feel as if they are a burden resulting in suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Eating disorders are disorders of emotional distress and can lead to severe mood imbalances resulting in self-harm, feeling out of control and suicidal tendencies. One of the essential functions of eating disorder treatment is to learn to comprehend and tolerate emotions in a positive manner. It is necessary to seek treatment at the appropriate level of care and to work with a multi-disciplinary team. Individuals may feel like their “bad intense” emotions will never go away, but it’s important to remember that emotions are temporary. With treatment one can learn how to experience and express these built up emotions and how to do so on a regular basis so they don’t become overwhelming or terrifying potentially leading them to suicide.