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Depression, Suicide, and ADHD
For years there has been a myth that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is only a disorder of childhood and by the time you turn 18, the symptoms gradually dissipate before leaving completely.
Though it may be true that symptoms present differently during childhood, and some signs of ADHD diminish due to the changing roles and responsibilities of adulthood, ADHD directly affects people throughout their lifespan — not just in childhood.
Children with ADHD are more likely to become adults with various problems including:
- ADHD that has not subsided. Some studies find that about 30 percent of children with ADHD will have the disorder into adulthood.
- Another mental health disorder. More than 50 percent of children with ADHD will grow into adults with at least one other diagnosis like drug addiction, personality disorders, anxiety or depression.
- Higher rates of incarceration.
- Higher rate of self-injurious behaviors.
- Higher rates of completed suicide.
The link between ADHD and these problems becomes stronger when you investigate females only. Studies that track young girls with ADHD for a number of years found interesting results including:
- Females with ADHD are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide than a female without ADHD.
- Females with ADHD are two to three times more likely to engage in self-injurious behaviors like cutting, scratching or hitting self than a female without ADHD.
- Females with ADHD are more likely to develop an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia.
- ADHD combined presentation, which is a mix of inattention and impulsivity, and ADHD predominately hyperactive/ impulsive presentation are more related to these behaviors than ADHD predominately inattentive presentation. This could mean that the level of impulsivity in the female leads to the risk of suicide and injury.
Females and ADHD
Now that the connections are established between females with ADHD and depression, self-injury and suicide, we must investigate the reasons why. The researchers that discovered the information above believe that part of the issue is that females manage their ADHD symptoms differently than males. Where males might be more prone to act out, engage in defiant behaviors, and other outward signs of the disorder, females are more likely to internalize their symptoms.
Part of the reason for the internalization could be the differences in expectations from each gender. Often, ADHD is thought of as a male disorder. People are more willing to accept a boy that is more impulsive, more energetic and less attentive because they believe these characteristics are more appropriate in boys.
If a girl is displaying the same types of behaviors or symptoms, people will have more negative reactions and claim these symptoms are “not ladylike.” Similarly, it is common for a man to distort feelings of sadness into anger because anger is a more socially acceptable feeling for men.
So, rather than acting out the signs and symptoms of ADHD, young girls may begin to turn their feelings inward. This act produces depression as a consequence as they receive little understanding from the community and believe symptoms will not improve in the future. With increased depression comes the risk of increased suicidality and self-harm.
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There may be another piece to this connection, though. Another study shows that there is a strong connection between ADHD and trauma. This connection could work two ways based on ideas of cause and effect.
The first says that young girls might be more likely diagnosed with ADHD when their symptoms are actually stemming from trauma. If someone has a negative life experience, their symptoms can present in a number of ways including problems with attention, focus and impulsivity. The second connection between ADHD and trauma is that young girls with ADHD may be more susceptible to poor treatment and trauma due to family problems. Whatever the case, there is evidence to show that trauma linked to ADHD also increases risk of self-injurious behaviors including suicide.
What Can Be Done?
Identifying the problem and understanding the risks are essential pieces of information, but they do not change the problem. Instead, at this point, there needs to be increased focus on prevention and proper treatment. Only through action can these troubling trends be reversed.
A complete, thorough evaluation is needed when looking for symptoms or beginning treatment to address any compliant. This becomes even more important when looking at the association between trauma and ADHD.
If someone has symptoms of ADHD, assessing for history of or current physical, emotional or sexual abuse is key. At the same time, investigating traumatic experiences like car accidents or deaths will shed more light on the source of the symptoms.
Increased information is helpful in the majority of cases even if the short-term effect is negative. If a young girl is being diagnosed with ADHD for the first time, it may be valuable to explain some of the risks that can present in the future. By discussing aspects of depression, self-injury and suicide, females with ADHD can build their awareness as well as their ability to monitor themselves for new or changing symptoms.
Allowing for Appropriate Expression
It seems that a major factor influencing the transition from ADHD to depression is the tendency to internalize these feelings, but if the female is free to express her ADHD symptoms more accurately, there will be no need for this process. Females with ADHD should have their symptoms seen in a way equal to males. Additionally, finding positive perspectives on the benefits of ADHD will add to feelings of comfort and improved self-esteem.
Treatment as Prevention
Even if the female with ADHD is not yet showing any signs of depression, self-harm or suicidal risks, there may be a need for treatment. Seeking mental health counseling is a good way to prevent the symptoms of depression from taking root. A few sessions of preventative therapy can combine the elements listed above in an efficient, short-term way. Prevention is preferred over reactive treatments as a way to reduce risks of increased symptoms.
It turns out that depression is linked to ADHD, especially in females, and this depression is associated to increased risk of self-injury and suicide. When trauma is added to the scenario, the outlook becomes more confusing and bleak. Because of this, taking appropriate action to understand and treat these symptoms vital. Act quickly. Prevention can go a long way.