Boys with Eating Disorders May Face Greater Risk of Suicide
Eating disorders do not discriminate. In the past, eating disorders were often seen as a ‘woman’s issue.’ But new research shows that male eating disorders are on the rise. This means that many male teens and adolescents may face a greater risk of suicide as well. Compared to the general population, suicide rates are much higher among young people with eating disorders. These statistics are even higher for boys with eating disorders, especially among gay men, the studies say. More research is needed, but these studies provide valuable insight into the mental health challenges some male teens and adolescents may be facing today.
Yes, Males Can Develop Eating Disorders, Too.
In a recent report published by the Good Men Project, Steven M. Prinz, MD. examined multiple research projects to focus on the increase in males with eating disorders. Prinz says these studies also suggest that the risk of mortality for males with eating disorders is higher than it is for females. Because a higher percentage of adult males with eating disorders are gay, their risk for attempting suicide may even be higher, Prinz writes.
One of the studies, a recent Harvard survey of eating disorders clients, from 3,000 adults, revealed some surprising statistics. Consider these growing numbers:
- 40 percent of those who were diagnosed with binge eating disorders were male.
- An estimated 10 percent of people diagnosed with binge eating disorders are male.
- 20% of males diagnosed with eating disorders are gay.
Males vs. Females
Prinz’s report also drew from a research project at the University of Iowa conducted by Dr. Arnold Anderson. Anderson found several significant differences between males and females with eating disorders. Males tend to fixate on the shape of their bodies, or a certain body type rather than their actual weight.
The Adonis Factor
While young girls may obsess about having flat stomachs or tiny waists like their favorite movie stars and celebrities, boys may envy their stars for rock-hard six-pack abdomens and muscular chests. Research shows that male clients typically tend to be more concerned about the shape of their torsos, arms, or upper bodies, and they are generally less concerned with their lower body appearance, Prinz notes. Anderson also discovered that in young males, the tendency to develop eating disorders is often connected to their participation in certain sports. Looking to maximize their athletic performance, young men may also develop food phobias based on what they think might give them a competitive edge.
The LGBTQ Factor
Anderson’s research determined that around 20% of all males with eating disorders have a gay orientation, and this figure is about four to five times the population average in the U.S. Homosexual males with eating disorders tend to obsess over their weight more than athletic performance, Anderson found. One theory for this, Prinz writes, is that being thin may be more important in gay culture.
The Health Risks Associated with Eating Disorders Can Be Fatal
Suicide is a serious risk for any form of mental illness, Prinz warns us in his report, and this is particularly true for young people with eating disorders. Eating disorder clients who have a high comorbidity, or combination of other psychiatric illnesses, such as mood disorders like depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, chemical dependency disorders, and personality disorders have the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric illnesses, Dr. Prinz writes.
Suicide Statistics of Boys with Eating Disorders
Citing statistics from a survey conducted by the Eating Disorder Coalition, Dr. Prinz also points to the alarming numbers of suicidal deaths among people with eating disorders, and these appear to be growing at a rapid rate. Consider these disturbing figures:
- Suicide rates are 20% higher in eating disorder clients than in the general population.
- Death by suicide among individuals with eating disorders are elevated compared to other mental health disorders including depression, bipolar mood disorder, and schizophrenia.
- Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates compared to all other psychiatric illnesses.
- The suicide mortality rate for people with anorexia nervosa is one of the highest of all psychiatric illnesses.
- Individuals with anorexia are 31 times more likely to make a fatal suicide attempt than the general population.
- Suicide is a more likely cause of death in anorexia nervosa than are medical complications secondary to the disorder.
- Patients with bulimia nervosa have a more frequent history of suicide attempts as compared to other eating disorders.
- Patients with bulimia nervosa are 7½ times more likely to die by suicide than the general population.
- Lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts is as high as 35% in individuals with bulimia nervosa.
- Patients with binge eating disorder have a higher suicide rate than the general population.
- 15% of adolescents with binge eating disorder have attempted suicide.
What You Can Do
If you think that someone your son or daughter is considering suicide, it’s extremely important to take the necessary steps to get them help right away, mental healthcare experts remind us. You should immediately assist them by contacting a mental health professional, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. If for any reason you are unsure, uncomfortable, or unable to take action, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Know the Warning Signs
Because most young people that take their own lives usually exhibit one or more warning signs in their behavior, speech, or actions, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers these guidelines for recognizing red flags.
Be concerned if a teen or adolescent talks about:
- Being a burden to others
- Feeling trapped
- Experiencing unbearable pain
- Having no reason to live
- Killing themselves
Specific behaviors to watch out for include:
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
- Acting recklessly
- Withdrawing from activities
- Isolating from family and friends
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away prized possessions
Teens who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
- Loss of interest
Is Treatment the Next Step?
If someone you love is struggling with the symptoms of an eating disorder or a serious mental health issue, Resilience Teen Mental Health Treatment can help. Our personalized behavior modification programs are tailored to fit each family’s needs. Resilience Teen Mental Health Treatment provides multi-faceted levels of care that range from residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, to partial hospitalization for adolescents and teens that are struggling with eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, self-harm behaviors, gender identity, oppositional defiant disorder, and other major mental health disorders.
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Males with Eating Disorders: Suicidal Risks, by Steven M. Prinz, MD. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
National Eating Disorders Association: Strategies for Prevention and Early Intervention of Male Eating Disorders. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Risk factors and warning signs. Retrieved October 18, 2016.