People with eating disorders

People who have an eating disorder are identified as a priority population for suicide prevention in Australia.

Eating disorders are characterised by disturbed/disordered eating patterns or altered eating-related behaviours resulting in a change to an individual’s consumption of food to a degree that is harmful to their health and wellbeing. Eating disorders are serious and complex mental illnesses; they are not a lifestyle choice or a diet gone ‘too far'. People living with an eating disorder have significantly higher levels of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders and alcohol and substance-use problems.

Eating disorders can occur in men and women of all age ranges, socioeconomic status and cultural background. About one in 20 Australians have an eating disorder and rate of eating disorders are increasing. Approximately 15% of Australian women experiencing an eating disorder during their lifetime.1

What we know about suicide amongst people living with an eating disorder

Eating disorders are a serious and potentially debilitating mental illness that place an individual at an increased risk of suicide. Rates of suicide and suicide attempts are high among people that experience an eating disorder.

It is important to remember that while eating disorders are linked to increased risk of suicide, not all of those who experience an eating disorder will have suicidal thoughts or make attempts on their life.

Protective factors

Suicide prevention for those living with an eating disorder is highly dependent on early and appropriate treatment and support. Protective factors include:

  • early intervention: seeking help as early as possible greatly reduces the severity, duration and impact of an eating disorder
  • individualised treatment: due to the complex nature of an eating disorder, there are many different treatments available and each may involve a variety of health professionals. Clinicians and health professionals work with individuals to determine the best treatment approach. In most cases, they will ensure that all treatments are fully suited to the mental, physical, emotional, behavioural and environmental needs of the person with the eating disorder.
  • ongoing support: the treatment should also recognise and address the different phases of the illness, the specific symptoms you have, and provide ongoing support to reduce the risk of relapse.

Risk factors

Risk factors for suicide amongst people living with an eating disorder include:

  • severity and duration of illness
  • substance abuse
  • excessive exercise
  • impulsive behaviour.



National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2016). What is an eating disorder? Retrieved 19 March 2018, from