Girls, Suicide, and ADHD
A new study finds some alarming relationships
A new study published online in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology reveals that girls diagnosed with ADHD are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide as young women.
The researchers recruited a heterogeneous group of 228 girls ranging in age from 6 to 12. The wide racial mixture of 53 percent white, 27 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic and 9 percent Asian-American makes this a true cross-sectional view of US society.
The study was undertaken by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. The researchers not only found an increased likelihood of suicide as young women, but also found that young girls — especially those with early signs of impulsivity, were two to three times more likely to hurt themselves later in life. Furthermore, these girls also were more likely to continue to have ADHD symptoms and make much greater use of psychological services.
“ADHD can signal future psychological problems for girls as they are entering adulthood,” study author Stephen Hinshaw, a psychology professor at Berkeley, said in a journal news release. “Our findings reinforce the idea that ADHD in girls is particularly severe, and can have serious public-health implications.”
The researchers performed initial assessment and found 140 of the girls had ADHD. The girls diagnosed with ADHD were broken into categories: 47 were considered ADHD-inattentive. This type of ADHD means the girls had a hard time paying attention but they could sit quietly. The remaining 93 girls had ADHD-combined type. Combined type means these girls had a combination of hyperactive, impulsive and inattentive symptoms. The group that did not have ADHD was used as a control.
The core of this research is the longitudinal follow-up after the initial assessment. The researchers followed up with the girls five and 10 years later. Ninety-five percent of the girls were still involved in the study after 10 years. After the 10 year mark, they ranged in age between 17 and 24 years old.
The researchers performed extensive analysis of the girls’ lives including information about substance abuse, depression, general life problems, self-injury, suicide attempts, academic performance/achievement, and neuropsychological functioning.
- 22 percent of the girls with ADHD-combined attempted suicide at least once in the 10 years after they were diagnosed.
- 8 percent of the girls with ADHD-inattentive and 6 percent of the girls who did not have ADHD did the same.
- The researchers fount no differences in substance abuse across the three groups of girls.
- Girls in the ADHD-combined group also were much more likely attempt self-injury. 51 percent of the ADHD girls said they scratched, cut, burned or hit themselves. In comparison, only 19 percent of the girls without ADHD and 29 percent of those with ADHD-inattentive injured themselves.
“ADHD in girls and women carries a particularly high risk of internalizing, even self-harmful behavior patterns,” Hinshaw said. “We know that girls with ADHD-combined are more likely to be impulsive and have less control over their actions, which could help explain these distressing findings.”
While the study provides data regarding the relationship between ADHD and self-injury or suicide, it does not determine a cause-effect relationship. It does, however, indicate a warning need be heeded by parents of girls with ADHD.