Children who are diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) have a higher chance of developing depression and/or attempting suicide during their teenage years, or 5 to 13 years after being diagnosed, say researchers in a new article published in Archives of General Psychiatry. A person with ADHD finds it much harder to focus on something without being distracted. They have greater difficulty in controlling what they are doing or saying and are less able to control how much physical activity is appropriate for a particular situation compared to somebody without ADHD. A person with ADHD is much more impetuous and agitated.

The researchers explain that between 16% and 37% of adults diagnosed with ADHD also suffer from dysthymia (a mild form of depression) and/or major depressive disorder.

The authors add:

When major depressive disorder occurs concurrently with ADHD, major depressive disorder has an earlier age of onset, has a longer duration and results in greater impairment.

Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, Ph.D., the University of Maryland, College Park, and team assessed 125 children who met the diagnosed criteria for ADHD; they were aged from 4 to 6 years. They also studied 123 children without ADHD in the Chicago and Pittsburgh areas. All children were demographically matched. Their aim was to find out whether young children who were diagnosed with ADHD had a higher chance or developing depression or attempting suicide during their teen years.

Follow-up sessions took place in both groups until the children were 18 years old.

The writers report that it does appear that a child who is diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 4 to 6 years has a higher risk of developing depression between the ages of 9 and 18. Seventeen of the 248 children said they had had a specific suicide plan at least once between the ages of 8 and 18.

They also found that 18.4% of the children who had been diagnosed with ADHD made at least one attempt at suicide by the age of 14, compared to 5.7% in the control group.

The authors wrote:

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.

If the mother had depression and the child had emotional/behavioral problems at the ages of 4 to 6 years, the risk of suicidal behaviors and behaviors for that child later on appeared to be greater. The investigators report that the risk is even larger for girls.

They researchers broke down ADHD into three subtypes, and found that each one predicted different outcomes:

  • Inattentiveness – the greater risk later on appeared to be only depression
  • Hyperactivity – the greater risk later on appeared to be only suicide attempts
  • Both inattentiveness and hyperactivity – the greater risk appeared to be for both depression and attempted suicide later on

The authors concluded:

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. Considered in light of what is already known about the antisocial outcomes of childhood ADHD and their risk for unintentional injury, it would not be premature to test early prevention programs designed to reduce both serious behavioral and affective sequelae of ADHD in early childhood.

“Very Early Predictors of Adolescent Depression and Suicide Attempts in Children With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder”
Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, PhD; Brooke S. G. Molina, PhD; William E. Pelham, PhD; Brooks Applegate, PhD; Allison Dahlke, BA; Meghan Overmyer, AM; Benjamin B. Lahey, PhD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(10):1044-1051. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.127

Written by Christian Nordqvist