Study Links ADHD To Depression in Children

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A new study lead by Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland, College Park has found that young children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at greater risk for adolescent depression and/or suicide attempts five to 13 years after diagnosis. ADHD is a behavioral disorder characterized by difficulty paying attention, impulsive behaviors, and hyperactivity.

Earlier studies have found that children diagnosed with ADHD in childhood are more likely to have behavior problems as teens, and are more likely to be injured accidentally. This new study looked at 125 children in Chicago and Pittsburgh who were diagnosed with ADHD between the ages of 4 and 7, and 123 children of the same age range who did not have an ADHD diagnosis.

When those children were re-evaluated between the ages of 9 and 18, the ADHD children were three times as likely to have made a suicide attempt by age 18 (18.4 percent compared to 5.7 percent), and four times as likely to be diagnosed with depression.

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“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 methodological predictors of these outcomes,” said researchers.

Children that were both inattentive and hyperactive risked depression as well as attempted suicide, while those that were only inattentive, only risked depression. Also, those that were hyperactive, had high chances of attempting suicide but did not risk being depressed.

It is important to note that adults can suffer from ADHD too, and 16 to 37% of them also have major depressive disorders and/or dysthymia, which is a moderate type of depression.

“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. 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, ” researchers stated.

“Some youth with ADHD, especially when undiagnosed or when poorly managed clinically, exhibit difficulties in academic, social, and familial functioning and significant and persistent impairment in these domains naturally can contribute to depression,” says Alec L. Miller, PsyD, professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

“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,” the authors concluded.

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