ADHD in Childhood Associated With Risk of Depression and Suicide, Study Says

Filed under: Medical Conditions, News, In The News, Weird But True, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens, New In Pop Culture

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Early intervention may help kids who develop depression concurrently with ADHD. Credit: Getty Images

Young children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) appear to be at greater risk for adolescent depression and/or suicide attempts five to 13 years after they are diagnosed, according to a report released today.

Prior research has shown that 16 to 37 percent of adults who have been diagnosed with ADHD also suffer from major depressive disorder and/or dysthymia, a mild form of depression. Further, when depression occurs along with ADHD, the depression usually starts at a younger age, lasts longer and results in greater impairment, background material in the study, published this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry, says.

Looking at the research on adults with ADHD, the study's authors set out to determine if the findings also hold true for children -- specifically, whether young children with ADHD face a higher risk of depression and attempted suicide. They studied 125 children, ages 4 to 6, who were diagnosed with ADHD, and conducted multiple follow-up assessments until they reached age 18.

The authors found that children diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of 4 and 6 were, indeed, at greater risk for depression between the ages of 9 and 18. In addition, 12 percent of children and adolescents with ADHD reported having a specific suicidal plan at least once during this time period, while more than 18 percent of those studied had made at least one suicide attempt by the end of the assessment period.

Depression in the child's mother, combined with emotional and behavioral problems at 4 to 6 years, predicted depression and suicidal behaviors in children with ADHD. In addition, girls were found to be at greater risk for depression and suicide attempts.

"Our findings indicate that young children with ADHD are at high risk for both single and recurrent episodes of adolescent depression and for suicidal behavior, even controlling for a history of major depression in their mothers and other demographic and methodologic predictors of these outcomes," the authors write.

The study also broke down ADHD into three types: Inattentiveness, hyperactivity and/or a combination of the two. Researchers found that each one predicted somewhat different outcomes. While children who have a combination of inattention and hyperactivity predicted both depression and attempted suicide, children who experience only inattentiveness predicted only depression and children showing only hyperactivity predicted suicide attempts, but not depression.

In light of what is already known about the negative outcomes of childhood ADHD and its risk for unintentional injury, the authors say it may be time to test early prevention programs designed to reduce both the serious behavioral and emotional effects of ADHD in early childhood.

"These findings suggest that it is possible to identify children with ADHD at very young ages who are at very high risk for later depression and suicidal behavior," they conclude.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.