Research — 21 August 2012

Girls diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are up  to four  times more likely to attempt suicide as young women, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley also found these  girls, particularly those with early signs of impulsivity, were two to three  times more likely to hurt themselves later in life, compared to girls who did  not have the disorder. They noted that these girls also were more likely to  continue to have symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and  make much greater use of psychological services.

The study was published online in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical  Psychology.

“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 recruited 228 girls ranging in age from 6 to 12. Of these  girls, 53 percent were white, 27 percent were black, 11 percent were Hispanic  and 9 percent were Asian-American.

After extensive testing, the researchers found 140 of the girls had ADHD. Of  the girls diagnosed with the condition, 47 were considered ADHD-inattentive,  meaning they had a hard time paying attention but they could sit quietly.  Meanwhile, 93 of the girls had ADHD-combined, a combination of hyperactive,  impulsive and inattentive symptoms.

After the initial assessment, the researchers followed up with the girls five  and 10 years later. Of the original group, 95 percent of the girls were still  involved in the study after 10 years. By this time, the participants were  between 17 and 24 years old.

The researchers asked them about their life problems, including their  symptoms of depression, substance use, suicide attempts and self-injury. The  researchers also assessed their academic achievement and neuropsychological  functioning.

The study revealed that 22 percent of the girls with ADHD-combined attempted  suicide at least once in the 10 years after they were diagnosed, while 8 percent  of the girls with ADHD-inattentive and 6 percent of the girls who did not have  ADHD did the same.

Girls in the ADHD-combined group also were much more likely to hurt  themselves. The researchers found 51 percent admitted to scratching, cutting,  burning or hitting themselves. In comparison, only 19 percent of the girls  without ADHD and 29 percent of those with ADHD-inattentive injured  themselves.

The researchers noted there were no differences in substance abuse across the  three groups of girls.

“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.”

Although the research found an association between ADHD and increased suicide  risk, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

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