What is an eating disorder?

Eating Disorders are complex and destructive illnesses, which affect a person’s health, happiness and relationships. They involve disordered eating behaviour, which may include restricting food intake, binge-eating, purging, fasting or excessive exercise.

How might they start?

At the point when someone first experiences symptoms of an eating disorder, they may not see it as an illness. It could be a coping mechanism, perhaps a desire to gain some control or a way of dealing with overwhelming emotion.

Who can be affected?

Over the last 30-40 years, the prevalence of eating disorders has increased and despite social stereotypes, they affect individuals from different social backgrounds, ages, races and genders. The eating disorders charity, Beat, estimates that there are over 1.6 million people struggling with an eating disorder throughout the UK. However, there is still a stigma associated with eating disorders that can stop many people from seeking support.

Can eating disorders contribute to thoughts of suicide?

Physical health complications related to malnutrition are the leading cause of death among people with an eating disorder, with the mortality rate being 20%. One in five of these deaths are a result of suicide, which is often overlooked. On HOPELINEUK, we talk to a lot of individuals with eating disorders and understand how difficult it is to cope with this illness and how it can have an impact on thoughts of not wanting to be alive. One study of young girls with Anorexia Nervosa found that 60% of the participants exhibited suicidal behaviours, which shows the prevalence of suicidal thoughts.

When trying to understand why those with an eating disorder may experience thoughts of suicide, there are many things to keep in mind – such as the extent to which malnutrition can distort our experience of reality. Eating disorders can also cause people to feel like a burden on loved ones. They may feel trapped in negative thought patterns and rigid, daily routines. On HOPELINEUK, we often hear from people who feel suicide is their only way to escape their daily battle with struggles such as these.

How can I help?

As with many other mental illnesses, eating disorders are often surrounded by stigma and misconceptions, which can make it harder for individuals and their families to seek help.

If you know somebody who is struggling with an eating disorder, and you’re concerned they may be experiencing thoughts of suicide, we always advise to ask them directly. There is often a fear that talking about suicide will make someone suicidal, but this isn’t the case.

Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide does not put the thought in their head, so don’t be afraid to specifically ask them whether they’re having thoughts of ending their life. Tell them that you care about them and that their life is meaningful.

At HOPELINEUK, we recognise that eating disorders are complex conditions that are unique to each individual, but we are here to support individuals to keep safe from their thoughts of suicide.

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