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Deaths by suicide among individuals with anorexia as arbiters between competing explanations of the anorexia-suicide link.

BACKGROUND: Suicide is a leading cause of death among individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN). In this paper, we examined competing explanations of the high rate of death by suicide among individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN).

METHODS: Nine case reports of individuals with AN who died by suicide were evaluated to determine whether death by suicide occurred a) because physical health was so compromised that what would be a non-lethal suicide attempt in a healthy adult became a fatal suicide attempt, or b) because highly lethal suicide attempts that would have killed any adult, healthy or medically compromised, were made.

RESULTS: The findings converged with the latter hypothesis, as predicted by Joiner's [Joiner, T., 2006. Why People Die By Suicide. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA] theory of suicide, which suggests individuals with AN may habituate to the experience of pain during the course of their illness and accordingly die by suicide using methods that are highly lethal.

LIMITATIONS: This study utilized case reports instead of an experimental design, which impedes its ability to comment on whether there is a causal relationship between Joiner's theory and death by suicide among individuals with AN.

CONCLUSIONS: Clinicians are encouraged to carefully assess suicidality in AN patients, paying particular attention to issues related to lethality.

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