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Suicidality in Eating Disorders

Suicidality in Eating Disorders

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are common in people with all the eating disorders. Many of the deaths from certain eating disorders are from suicide. 25% of those with eating disorders attempt suicide. Parents need to be alert to signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors and how to deal with suicidality in general, and specifically to these dangers in those with eating disorders.

Unfortunately, eating disorder clinicians may be untrained in the area of assessing and treating suicidality in their patients, and parents of individuals with eating disorders are often not given information, skills, or strategies on how to identify and address suicidality.

These statistics on suicide are not meant to frighten families: the goal is to equip and empower you.

Fear of outcomes like suicide can paralyze parents or lead to avoidance or bargaining. Parents may avoid upsetting their person for fear of them harming themselves. It is important for parents to know that those  with eating disorders can suffer from suicidality when in good treatment and without treatment. Suicidality is not caused by or directly related to treatment. Families do not drive people to suicide by setting boundaries or insisting on seeking treatment.

Eating disorders are frightening and exhausting conditions even with the best of care. We cannot underestimate the challenge of decision-making and complying with treatment. Our family members with eating disorders need us and their treatment providers to do all we can to provide the safety and support they need.

There are techniques and skills for parents to learn, and for our communities to support. DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) is one important set of tools and skills.

Treatment and caregiver planning for the possibility of suicidal thoughts or actions does not increase the risk. Understanding and having a plan for these symptoms helps parents provide safer environments for recovery. Facing our fears as caregivers can improve our ability to protect and support our loved ones. Facing this risk can improve quality of life for all family members, including parents and siblings.

This research relates to suicidality in adults with eating disorders. The Linehan Risk Assessment and Management Protocol is used by clinicians to assess suicide risk and can give parents insight into both assessment and protective factors.

Non-suicidal self-injury is also a concern. It is important and empowering for parents to be aware of these issues, and the difference between them.

This resource was meant for clinicians, but it contains a lot of practical and valuable information that can benefit parents as well, and can be shared with treatment providers who are unfamiliar with assessing and treating suicidality.

Suicide attempts are terrifying for the person and their family. Death from suicide is devastating for all concerned. The eating disorder community is increasingly recognizing the necessity for supporting families in both prevention and supporting those who have lost their loved ones to suicide.


Useful links:

Linehan Risk Assessment and Management Protocol

Suicide Warnings and Risk Factors (VeryWellMind)

Eating Disorders & Suicide (VeryWellMind)

Suicide attempts in US adults with lifetime DSM-5 eating disorders (BMC Medicine 2019)

Self-Injury and Cutting (VeryWellMind)

DBT for parents

F.E.A.S.T. website resources on suicide:

Love and Loss

Letting Me Fight In Your Boxing Ring