Noah’s grandma was concerned. Her grandson, a dedicated young gymnast, seemed to be growing thinner and thinner. He’d always been lean, but one day when this twelve-year-old pulled up his sleeve in a dramatic fashion, she was shocked by what she saw.
His arm, once so strong and muscular, was now skin and bones.
“Do you want to kill your son?” the grandma asked Noah’s parents. They had been overcommitted to his success as a gymnast, and as he gained height—and naturally, weight—they had begun restricting his diet. At first, Noah received encouraging comments that kept him from eating. But as he continued to starve himself, he started losing muscle, and his gymnastics performance took a nosedive. His coach was threatening to pull him off the team. Noah was crushed. Gymnastics was his world, and he knew his skill in that world was highly valued by his parents.
I’m a loser! I’m no good. I’m nothing, he thought. I was going to go to the Junior Olympics for gymnastics, but I’m not going now! I’ve ruined my career, and my parents are ashamed of me. Noah felt so bad that he started thinking about cutting himself. Only his close relationship with his grandmother kept him from doing so. Instead of cutting himself, he visited a website called “To Write Love on Her Arms,” a nonprofit dedicated to finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. When Noah showed his arm to his grandmother that day, she noticed writing on it.
“I know how much you love me, Grandma,” he said. “So I didn’t want to hurt you. I tattooed ‘To Write Love on Her Arms’ so it would remind me not to cut myself.”
With his grandma’s help, Noah started counseling.
Of all the problematic behaviors that have a potential to push young people in the direction of suicide, eating disorders may be the most difficult and costly to diagnose and treat. The condition is associated with a wide variety of psychological and medical complications, including anxiety, OCD, heart problems, and strokes.
Of special concern is the connection between eating disorders (EDs) and suicidal thoughts. Suicide is the most common cause of death among people who suffer from EDs. Statistics indicate that individuals with anorexia are thirty-one times more likely to make a fatal suicide attempt than the general population. The number for bulimics is lower but still disturbing, at seven and a half times the normal rate. Clearly, this is an issue that needs to be on the radar of every parent who’s concerned about the threat of adolescent suicide.