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Anorexia Is the Most Dangerous Mental Illness – Anorexics Almost 6 Times More Likely to Die

After wading through study data on more than 17 000 people with eating disorders, researchers have determined that anorexia nervosa is the most lethal of all mental illness – by far.

Scientists at Loughborough University in England examined data on 17 000 people with eating disorders over almost 50 years (From 1966 to 2010) to come up with a mortality rate for different types of eating disorders. They found that people with anorexia nervosa were 5.86 times more likely to die in any  given year than people of a comparable age from the general population (about 5 per thousand in any given year).

People with bulimia and other types of eating disorders are also at a greater risk of death than the general population:

  • Bulimics are 1.93 times more likely to die
  • People with eating disorders not otherwise specified are 3.9% more likely to die

Anorexia was found to be the most deadly of the mental health disorders. Increased mortality rate for other types of mental health disorders include:

  • Males with schizophrenia are 2.8 times as likely to die as people from the general population and women with schizophrenia are 2.5 times as likely to die
  • Males with serious depression are 1.5 times more likely to die than people from the general population and women with depression and 1.6 times more likely to die in any given year.

Commenting on why the death rate for anorexia nervosa was so much higher than for other types of mental illnesses, lead study author Jon Arcelus explained, “Of course, eating disorders have serious physical consequences. The study could not identify how people died, but there is no doubt that the reasons behind this are related to the physical problems of the illness.” He says that mortality rates for anorexics are highest when coupled with very low body weights, alcohol abuse and when anorexia is not diagnosed until later in life. Women diagnosed with anorexia before the age of 15 are 3 times more likely to die, which is considerably better than the 18 fold increase in death rate experienced by women diagnosed with the disease between the ages of 20 and 29.

Common causes of illness and death for people with anorexia often stem from complications related to kidney or heart damage, gastrointestinal problems, bone loss and anemia.

Anorexics are also very likely to commit suicide. One in five who dies with anorexia commits suicide.

The full study results can be read in the July edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry

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