Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Girls, ADHD, and Suicide

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and it reminds me once again of the risk to all of our young people. As a mother, I can think of nothing more devastating than losing a young person to suicide. Almost 16 percent of students in grades 9 to 12 report having seriously considered suicide, and 7.8 percent report having attempted suicide one or more times in the past twelve months, according to U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. These are sobering statistics for all of us.

To make matters more alarming for CHADD members, a ten-year longitudinal study of girls with ADHD suggests the risk for girls with combined-type ADHD is significantly higher than for others. Steve Hinshaw and his colleagues (2012) found that the girls with ADHD had higher risk of both suicide and self-injurious behavior than girls without ADHD. Twenty-two percent of the girls with combined-type ADHD (attention problems, impulsivity, and hyperactivity) had made a suicide attempt compared to 6 percent of the control group and 8 percent of girls diagnosed with inattentive-type ADHD. Self-injury was significantly more likely with 51 percent of the ADHD-combined group reporting self-injurious behavior compared to 19 percent of the control group. The researchers suggest the higher incidence may be related to impulsivity, depression, and difficulties with emotional regulation.

So, what is a parent to do? First, don’t hide your head in the sand. Every parent needs to know about the signs of suicidal behavior and what help is available. There are great resources available to help you learn more. Check out the list at the end of this blog. The most important thing to know is suicidal symptoms are treatable.
Second, work at maintaining a close relationship with your adolescent and young adult. Can they talk with you about problems as well as achievements? Can you listen without jumping in and making a judgment or trying to fix everything? Sometimes what they need most of all is for us to listen and understand what they are experiencing.

Third, know what the danger signs are:
  • Persistent unhappiness
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Over-reactions to criticism
  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts
Fourth, don’t be afraid to talk with your teen or young adult about depression and suicide. Really listen to what he or she is telling you. Let her know you hear how bad she is feeling. Help him understand that you are there to help him get through this. Don’t be afraid to ask directly about suicide—it can open the door. And don’t allow yourself to be sworn to secrecy—you will need to enlist the help of others.

Fifth, if you feel there is a chance your child may be depressed and suicidal, then take action. Make a plan and get help immediately. Call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for immediate guidance. Seek out an appointment with a qualified mental health professional right away. Make sure that any weapons or dangerous substances are locked up and unavailable. And let your teen know that you have heard him or her and are taking these steps to help.

To learn more, here are some great resources:

Ruth Hughes, PhD, is the CEO of CHADD.