Welcome to Suicide: The Ripple Effect

Recent studies reveal a very high suicide risk even for overweight or feel they are at that overweight level and are, therefore, a target for bullying. This does not come as a surprise to me and consider that it is extremely important to note that distorted self-image is a big factor to high suicide rates. This may indeed help in the identification of the problem but unfortunately the solution lies elsewhere. As a matter of fact, suicide rates among children and adolescents who have been diagnosed with obesity are alarmingly high. That, of course, is something to be concerned about.

As it turns out, there is a known risk factor for suicidal thoughts and attempts in those children and adolescents who are overweight, according to new research. Suicide attempts rose significantly for those with higher weights compared to those with a normal weight status. What could be the cause for this drastic trend and why is there so much attention now on the weight status of children and adolescents?

There are several theories that attempt to explain the rise in suicidality among today’s youth. One is the increase in bMI (Body Mass Index) among today’s youth. Another theory is that there has been an increase in perceived social threat with obesity. Perhaps this is part of the larger body image puzzle. But one thing we do know is that bullying behavior has been found to be greater in the obese than in non-obese peers. So, perhaps if there was a large sample size for suicidal ideation and/or attempts, the pattern would clearly show that there is a link between obesity and suicidal ideation.

There is also emerging evidence that suggests that weight bias internalization may play a role. According to this theory, people who are overweight become emotionally distressed when they are rejected by others. They then internalize this negativity to the point where they feel that it is worth it to negatively internalize this sense of worthlessness. This can result in increased suicidality if left untreated. However, given that suicide is generally not immediately associated with suicidality or mental illness, this finding may be minimal and needs further study.

Finally, there is emerging evidence that suggests that the association between suicidality and weight bias internalization may be moderated by external factors. For example, the negative influence of media messages may account for the increased tendency of overweight and obese youth to internalize these beliefs. Similarly, the negative influence of peers may account for the increased prevalence of suicidality among those with BMI greater than 34. While the majority of suicidally depressed adolescents do not have a BMI greater than 34, the significant minority (nearly 20%) are obese, indicating that their bodies are outside the range of tolerance for living and working under typical activity levels for their height and age.

All of these associations are important. In addition, the fact that suicidality is an interpersonal disorder, rather than a reflection of a specific biological problem, highlight the need for more research on the causes of weight bias internalization. It is unknown why some individuals choose to internalize their negative beliefs about their bodies. However, given that almost all people experience emotional discomfort when subjected to negative body images and thoughts, it is likely that the increased pressure to conform to these negative ideals of beauty leads to a degree of internalization and weight bias. This would seem to suggest that the association between suicidality and weight discrimination/bulkiness results not from increased exposure to physically unhealthy cues (i.e., the “beauty standard”), but from the individuals’ own internalized understanding of these cues as psychologically harmful.

There are also indications that the link between obesity and suicidal behavior may be moderated by emotional distress and exposure to negative self-talk. These factors are all strong risk factors for suicide and are known risk factors for suicidality. In addition, those who have been obese are often those with higher levels of emotional distress. Therefore, suicidality may be partially associated with obesity and suicidal behavior due to the increased stress levels experienced by those who are overweight or obese and the negative self talk prevalent in the lives of those who are heavier or obese. As mentioned above, there are several potential risk factors for suicide, including genetic factors, suicidality, social and psychological risks, and mental health.

One of the most promising areas of research in the area of causality between obesity and suicidality is the work of psychiatry professor, David P. Brower, Ph.D. in the field of affective disorder, and his article pubmed google scholar project, which is currently in progress. His studies have suggested that genetic factors may play a role in both obesity and affective disorder, and that such factor may exist in the genetic architecture of human beings.