Recent research published in the United States indicates a strong evidential link between a diagnosis of ADHD and suicide, particularly among children and young adults.
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder commonly diagnosed in children between the ages of 3 and 17. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders observed in childhood years.
ADHD can lead to physical, mental, and emotional issues that can impact a person’s development and ability to perform everyday functions. Approximately 6 million children in the United States, ages 3 to 17, have been diagnosed with ADHD.
When looking to diagnose ADHD in either a child or young adult, medical professionals seek to identify the following behavioral traits in the individual being assessed –
- Extreme difficulty with paying attention in school and/or at home or in social settings;
- Problems with sitting still, being attentive, and controlling impulse actions or behavior.
- Following simple instructions without being distracted or deviating from what is required of them;
- Being easily distracted and not being able to follow through on finishing projects or other tasks; and
- Regularly losing important belongings or items of value.
A link between ADHD and self-harm?
The research’s findings that might cause most alarm bells to sound is that those diagnosed with ADHD are at greater risk for self-harm.
According to Susan Nwogwugwu, Board Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner for Done, a digital health company that helps those living with ADHD,
“ADHD has a positive association with suicide or suicidal behavior and ideation. While the association may be dependent on other factors, individuals with ADHD have a higher likelihood of attempting or completing suicide,”
Understanding ADHD and Suicide
The research published by CDC finds that children with ADHD, in addition to the symptoms listed above, also have symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. This can manifest in excessive talking, interrupting others or an inability to wait to speak, trouble with taking part in quiet activities, and difficulty staying still or seated. Some of those traits can make children more susceptible to thoughts of suicide.
According to Dr. Zoe Martinez, Regional Medical Director at Done,
“ADHD, especially when untreated, can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, which, combined with the impulsivity that can often accompany ADHD, can lead to increased suicidal ideation and even suicidal gestures or parasuicidal behavior.”
The nature of impulsivity has a lot to do with the link to suicide. It is thought that those with high impulses tend not to think things through and sometimes don’t give full consideration to outcomes.
A combination of factors
The research also finds that those who contend with other conditions alongside ADHD are more susceptible to thoughts of self-harm and suicide. For example, the study shows that depression in someone with ADHD significantly increases the possibility of suicide.
According to the research, someone with ADHD who also deals with anxiety is at greater risk of self-harming and suicide. According to the report, family history and the household dynamic can also be contributing factors.
Explaining why this is the case, Sussan Nwogwuguw states,
“Raising children with ADHD in dysfunctional settings increases their stress. The low tolerance to stress increases the risk of suicide significantly. In addition, other predisposing factors include a history of substance use disorder, lower-level education, and experiencing parental domestic violence during childhood.”
The research demonstrates that gender can also play its part. Studies show that girls with ADHD have a higher rate of suicidal ideations than boys. However, when looking at suicide completion, research indicates that the numbers are higher among males than females with ADHD and comorbid diagnoses, such as depression.
Awareness of potential ADHD consequences is vital
Understanding the link between ADHD and suicide is the first step in offering children and their parents the help they need. It’s critical for caregivers and loved ones to know what signs to look for in a child with ADHD who is coping with suicidal thoughts. Symptoms of a child becoming withdrawn, outward sadness, and feelings of hopelessness or disinterest in life can all be red flags.
Experts say raising the level of awareness of issues children with ADHD face, as well as raising awareness about signs of suicide, is imperative. Erasing the stigma associated with bringing up these issues and addressing risk factors is also vital.
Ultimately, experts say that being prepared is one of the best ways to help someone you love deal with thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Being aware of triggers and knowing where and when to seek external professional advice and help is vital.
While experts acknowledge that there is a link between ADHD and suicidal ideations, they also offer some hope to those who may be affected by ADHD. Helping children get the mental, emotional, and physical support they need, as well as knowing what warning signs to look for, can be the first step in helping to save a life.