Children with ADHD at increased risk for depression and suicidal thoughts as adolescents

A study carried out by researchers at the Universities of Chicago and Pittsburgh have found that children who are diagnosed with ADHD at between age four to six years are more likely to suffer from depression in adolescents than children who do not have ADHD.

This study improves on earlier, similar studies because it compares data taken over about 14 years and focussing on specific child and family factors that can predict certain risks. One hundred and twenty three children with ADHD were followed up until age 18 to 20, and were compared with 119 children from similar neighbourhoods and schools, and were matched for age, sex and ethnicity. The results showed that 18% of those with ADHD suffered from adolescent depression, which was about 10 times the rate of those without ADHD. And although suicide attempts are rare, children with ADHD were five times more likely to have considered it at least once. In the group of children with ADHD more than 80% did not attempt suicide, and not one of them committed suicide.

Some of the more specific findings of the study suggest that although more boys suffer from ADHD, being female increased the risk of depression. Children with inattention or combined subtypes of ADHD were at greater risk of depression, while those with combined type or hyperactivity were at greater risk of suicidal thoughts. Those children whose mothers suffered from depression were at a greater risk themselves. And children with more complicated diagnoses were most at risk.

"This study is important in demonstrating that, even during early childhood, ADHD in is seldom transient or unimportant" said study director Benjamin Lahey, Ph.D., a professor of health studies and psychiatry at the University of Chicago. "It reinforces our belief that parents of young children with ADHD should pay close attention to their child's behaviour and its consequences and seek treatment to prevent possible long-term problems."

This study was funded by The National Institutes of Health.

Additional authors: Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, PhD, of the University of Maryland; Brooke Molina, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh; William Pelham, PhD, of Florida International University; Brooks Applegate, PhD, of Western Michigan University; and Allison Dahlke and Meghan Overmyer of the University of Chicago.

Published in the October 2010 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry

Source: University of Chicago Medical Center

First published in October 2010


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