TORONTO, Ontario — Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is usually synonymous with difficulty concentrating and a whole lot of extra energy. Now, however, a new study finds an unsettling connection between ADHD in adulthood and increased risk of attempting suicide. Researchers from the University of Toronto say women with ADHD are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than women without the condition. Men with ADHD are four and a half times more likely to commit self-harm.
The findings reveal the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts is much higher among Canadian women with ADHD (24%) in comparison to women without ADHD (3%). Study authors noted similar albeit not as extreme statistics among Canadian men as well (9% ADHD vs. 2% non-ADHD).
“ADHD casts a very long shadow. Even when we took into account history of mental illness, and the higher levels of poverty and early adversities that adults with ADHD often experience, those with ADHD still had 56% higher odds of having attempted suicide than their peers without ADHD” reports lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging, in a university release.
All of this is especially interesting considering ADHD is far more common in men than among women. Due to this, most ADHD research has focused primarily on males.
“Our finding that one in four Canadian women with ADHD had attempted suicide highlights the urgency of providing adequate mental health supports across the life course to this vulnerable and neglected group,” explains Lauren Carrique, a recent graduate of Toronto’s Masters in Social Work program and social worker at Toronto General Hospital.
‘Violent parental conflict’ can cause ‘extreme stress’ for children with ADHD
Researchers say parental violence as an adolescent and substance abuse are both factors that can increase the risk of suicide considerably among ADHD patients. Adults with ADHD who have dealt with chronic domestic violence at home while growing up had triple the risk of suicide in comparison to other adults with ADHD.
“The cross-sectional nature of this study prohibits our ability to determine possible causality; the relationship between chronic parental domestic violence and suicide attempts could flow in either direction,” adds co-author Raphaël Nahar Rivière, a medical resident in anesthesiology. “We speculate that violent parental conflict may cause extreme stress for the child with ADHD and predispose these individuals to mental illness and suicidal thoughts. In addition, the challenges of raising a child with ADHD who is struggling with severe mental health issues may cause parental conflict, which may escalate into domestic violence.”
Of the 21,744 Canadians included in this study, 529 deal with ADHD.
“The disturbingly high prevalence of suicide attempts among people with ADHD underline the importance of health professionals screening patients with ADHD for mental illness and suicidal thoughts,” concludes co-author Senyo Agbeyaka. “Knowing that women with ADHD who have experienced childhood adversities and adults with a history of substance dependence and/or depression are particularly vulnerable to attempting suicide will hopefully help clinicians improve targeting and outreach to this population.”
The study is published in Archives of Suicide Research.