People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have higher rates of suicidal thoughts than those without ADHD. Experts do not fully understand the link, but ADHD’s high rate of co-occurrence with other mental health disorders may play a role.

A 2021 study that features in BMC Psychiatry shows a strong correlation between ADHD and suicidal thoughts. In addition, the authors note that when they adjusted for other variables, ADHD remained an independent risk factor. This finding suggests that ADHD may directly cause higher rates of suicidal thoughts.

It is important to note that as all of the participants were medical students in China, the findings may not be generalizable to other populations. However, other research suggests that certain behaviors common in people with ADHD, such as impulsivity, could contribute to suicide risk.

Although more research is necessary, experts think that different ADHD subtypes may be associated with different suicidal behaviors.

Understanding that ADHD may be a risk factor for suicidal thoughts is an important part of preventing death by suicide. Therefore, individuals with ADHD, close friends and family, and healthcare professionals should all be aware of potential signs or behavioral changes.

Keep reading to learn about the link between ADHD and suicide, who is most at risk, and how to identify and manage suicidal thoughts.

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Research has shown that people with ADHD have higher rates of suicidal ideation and of planning and attempting suicide. For instance, a 2021 study of medical students found that those with the predominantly inattentive type had five times the rate of suicidal behaviors as those without ADHD.

However, this does not mean that all people with ADHD will have suicidal thoughts. Instead, it indicates that having ADHD makes an individual more likely to have these thoughts. The reason why is not fully understood, but experts think that it is a combination of co-occurring conditions and ADHD itself.

People with ADHD have high rates of co-occurring mental health conditions, including depression. A 2017 systematic review reports that research suggests that two-thirds of people with ADHD have a co-occurring mental health condition.

Although this may somewhat explain the link, the abovementioned 2021 study suggests that ADHD could also be an independent factor in causing suicidal thoughts.

The researchers behind the study think that people with different types of ADHD experience suicidal thoughts in different ways. For example, when controlling for other variables, they found no correlation between suicidal thoughts and the predominantly hyperactive type. However, when they did this for other types of ADHD, they found that there was a correlation.

This means that people with predominantly inattentive or combined ADHD may be more likely to experience suicidal thoughts.

Experiencing suicidal thoughts can be scary, but treatment — including both medication and therapy — can help people manage them.

While the medication that doctors prescribe will vary depending on a person’s ADHD and any co-occurring conditions, research has shown lower rates of suicidal thoughts among people taking stimulant ADHD medications. These include amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall), lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse), and methylphenidate (Ritalin).

A doctor may also encourage a person with suicidal thoughts to consider therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can help people manage their thoughts.

In the immediate term, the following strategies may help:

  • Removing anything that makes suicide easy: Guns, weapons, and certain medications are dangerous for people experiencing poor impulse control.
  • Telling close friends and family members: These individuals can help a person manage during difficult times.
  • Calling a suicide prevention hotline: People can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
  • Remembering that suicidal feelings are often temporary: If a person can commit to avoiding acting on their feelings for 24 hours, they may find that the feelings pass.
  • Avoiding being alone: It is best to call a friend or family member or go out in public.
  • Calling 911 in a crisis: It is essential to seek urgent help for people at immediate risk.

People who are experiencing persistent suicidal ideation, thoughts, or urges should contact a doctor to receive prompt treatment.

Studies of suicide and suicidal thoughts in people with ADHD have not established a single, consistent group of risk factors. Current research indicates that a variety of factors may explain the link.

Co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia, can increase a person’s risk of suicide. Certain ADHD symptoms and behaviors may also increase a person’s risk.

Research has found that people with the inattentive and combined types of ADHD have higher rates of suicidal thoughts, ideation, and planning.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, certain groups of people have an increased risk of suicide overall. Some of these groups include:

  • people living in western states, such as Nevada, Montana, and Utah
  • males, although some studies of suicide in people with ADHD have not found any gender or sex differences
  • those with access to guns

Some warning signs of suicide include:

  • talking about suicide or wanting to die
  • abusing substances
  • talking about feeling hopeless or trapped
  • feeling like a burden to others
  • withdrawing from others
  • expressing anger, agitation, or restlessness
  • having fantasies of revenge
  • experiencing extreme mood shifts
  • finding it hard to cope with a sudden trauma, such as the loss of a relationship

People who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or notice warning signs in others should seek medical help.

People experiencing suicidal thoughts should contact a mental health professional or doctor. If they are in crisis, they should go to the closest emergency department or call 911.

Anyone who notices someone else exhibiting suicidal thoughts or behaviors should seek help. People do not threaten suicide to get attention, and shaming a person or minimizing their feelings will not help.

Instead, people can help by:

  • offering to stay with the person
  • helping them access care
  • telling the person that they are there to talk
  • helping them remove any weapons from the home
  • contacting a close friend or loved one of the person
  • inviting them on an outing
  • contacting a suicide hotline for additional help

Find more suicide prevention links and resources here.

Suicidal thoughts can come on suddenly or appear slowly over many weeks. They are always serious and can be life threatening.

People with ADHD tend to experience suicidal thoughts at higher rates than other people. Although the link is not fully understood, it may be related to co-occurring mental health conditions and certain ADHD symptoms.

People experiencing suicidal thoughts should seek treatment. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available at 800-273-8255, can help both the individual and those close to them.