The Emotional Side

Straight Talk on Suicide and ADHD

Research shows girls with attention deficit are more likely to attempt suicide or self-harm. To everyone who struggles with ADHD and depression: Treat it – and know you’re not alone.

Results of a major research study, recently released, show that adolescent girls with ADHD are more likely to attempt suicide and to inflict injury on themselves than non-ADHD girls of the same age.

The study, led by Stephen Hinshaw, PhD and published in the August edition of the online Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, reports that these tendencies show up more often in girls diagnosed with primarily impulsive type ADHD. The majority of girls are diagnosed with combined type ADHD, which includes impulsivity as well as inattention, so many are at risk.

I am not surprised in the least. For years I have scoured medical journals and psychology websites for some evidence that ADHD produces a higher rate of suicide (or suicide attempts). I have found precious little research to support my suspicion that ADHD heralds a sobering proclivity to hopelessness. After years of attempting solutions that fail, some adults and children see no other way out but to take their own lives. I am sure they believe the world will be better off without them. I know I did.

Before I turned 30, I was contemptuous of people who flirted with suicide. I believed that they were weak and cowardly or that they were self-pitying, vying for attention. I was self-righteous right up to the day that an avalanche of events stole my optimism and I, too, crossed the line into suicidal thinking. It’s not pretty, but there it is. It had happened more than once, I am embarrassed to tell you.

As with most research, the data stands alone, subject to interpretation. But Dr. Hinshaw has said many times that societal and peer pressure on adolescent and even elementary school girls is so strong that it’s almost impossible to avoid psychological damage. “At least one fourth of all U.S. teenage girls are suffering from self-mutilation, eating disorders, significant depression or serious consideration of suicide.” (from Hinshaw’s book, The Triple Bind ©2009). Add ADHD into the mix and despair creeps in.

Don’t think for a moment that this study doesn’t apply to you because it was based on two groups of adolescent girls (ADHD and a control). My hunch is that the statistics would hold for ADHD adults, too. Research to prove it is a distant reality, though. I have casually surveyed groups of adults with ADHD about their close encounters with suicide. The completely unscientific ratio of those who have considered suicide vs those who have not is about 50-50. So not all adults with ADHD are at risk. But some of us are.

Obviously I am still here, happy and healthy. There is a primal human lust for survival and I trusted it. But this new research on ADHD helps me remember those dark days in a different context. I may have been at the mercy of my undiagnosed ADHD. Would diagnosis and treatment have warded off the whispers of death? Perhaps.

Which makes it doubly important to treat your ADHD instead of hoping it will go away. It’s vital to find a coach, a therapist, a non-judgment friend or a religious counselor who can muck around in your wild brain with you. It’s important to take your medication if you choose that treatment. It’s important to stay connected with other folks who understand from the inside out how it feels to have ADHD.

If you are in the crosshairs of several crises and your resilience has evaporated, know that you are not alone. You have an entire community with whom to share your burden. We are here for you. Talk to us. We believe your life has value; there is a reason you are here on this planet at this time in this place.

You are not alone.

 

Updated on March 27, 2018

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  1. I wish that was the truth.. A very well written article but my experience is that as a Woman with ADHD, that we are alone. Unless you have a lot of money to get help from specialists and unless you have an understanding family (which Is dont) – You are alone. I have fought my ADHD for years now and I feel like giving up everyday. My GP sits bewildered because the medication she gave me doesn’t work and instead of trying to help just gives up answering my emails when I explain the issues I am having. I cannot afford Psychiatrists who can help me and despite my effort in my work, I am forever at risk of losing my job because I struggle to focus. In my experience ADDers are talented people who just want to do well in life, but as the disparity between what you want to achieve and what you have achieved becomes wider, the more depressed you become and the more hopeless you feel.

  2. I end up setting high expectations for people. When I’m new in a job or relationship, I amaze them, and then when I suddenly can’t maintain that, and start spacing out and forgetting things and all the symptoms; it just hurts them, they think I’m doing it on purpose because I don’t care about them or the job or whatever, or even am actively trying to hurt them. If they know I have ADHD or not, it doesn’t matter. Between that and not being diagnosed until my thirties, I feel like I’m stuck in an endless cycle of success and deep deep failure. Like great career and family and home, to homeless and unemployed and alone kind of failure. I feel like my brain is half very intelligent, with great gifts, but it’s stapled together with a severely mentally impaired brain, that of someone who could never hope to live independently, who needs to be supervised and told what to do in order to survive at all. It’s like the book “Flowers for Algernon” over and over and over again.

    1. I absolutely could have written this myself. It is as though as soon as I make any progress, I make a fatal mistake that destroys everything. I was also not diagnosed until my late 30s.

    2. Wow. I too could have written this exact post. Like verbatim. It is so confusing and devastating to know and have others know) what we are ‘technically’ capable of, but never be able to maintain it. It has nothing to do with not wanting to maintain our own precedent or not having the ability to do the thing (arrive on time, write the paper, clean the house)…it’s lacking the ability to remember the thing or make myself do the thing or stop myself from falling down a black hole of internet searches or activate or get out of a spiral of self loathing.

      So far in life, when I see things slipping, after I feel like I cannot hide anymore, I have cut and run. Especially jobs. As I just turned 30, I am getting to the point where I cannot do that anymore and I am terrified and hopeless about the future.

      I am currently testing medication combinations, as well as talking with a therapist, but it is so hard to see progress when things are always so hot or cold.

      I want to learn how to manage this. I want to learn how to live with this. But it is so hard to keep going when the dropped balls and the failures make it impossible to see a reason for hope.

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