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ADHD May Raise Girls' Risk for Suicide as Young Adults

FRIDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- 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.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on ADHD.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Aug. 14, 2012.

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