You have undoubtedly heard the statistic before; Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Indeed, the premature death rate among people with anorexia is about 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all causes of death among females ages 15-24 in the general population (Sullivan, 1995; Park, 2007). What you may not have known is that a large percentage of those deaths do not result from the effects of starvation, but from suicide. In fact, the rate of completed suicides among this population is more than 50 times higher than the expected rate in similar populations that don't have anorexia (Herzog, 2006, Park, 2007).
Until recently, the assumption was that higher rates of suicide among this population were a result of the increased likelihood of completed suicide by those in a severely weakened and malnourished state. Yet a 2008 study released by the University of Vermont revealed disturbing findings which indicate that anorexia patients who attempt suicide tend to use use overwhelmingly lethal methods and do so in conjunction with a low potential for being rescued.
Health-care professional who treat anorexia should be careful to recognize the higher capacity for suicide among these individuals, monitor suicide risk regularly, and be prepared to take appropriate protective action when indicated.
References: Sullivan, P.F. (1995). Mortality Rate in Anorexia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152, pp.1073-1074.
Herzog, D. (2006). Eating Disorders: Truth and consequences. In Greenfield, L. Thin (pp.85-86). San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Park, D.C. (2007). Eating Disorders: A call to arms. American Psychologist, 62 (3), p.158.