ADHD News & Research

Study: Suicidality in Children with ADHD May Be Reduced by ADHD Medication

Suicidality in children with ADHD and other behavioral disorders many be decreased by ADHD medication, according to a new study examining the associations between ADHD medication, externalizing symptoms, and childhood suicidality.

June 7, 2021

Suicidality in children with hyperactivity, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and other behavioral disorders may be decreased by ADHD medication. This research from the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania was published in JAMA Network Open.1

Researchers used data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, the largest long-term study of brain development and health in the United States. The study sample included mental, social, and emotional health data from a cohort of 11,878 children aged 9 and 10. Scientists are unable to test the effect of medication on suicidal patients for ethical reasons, but the magnitude of the sample allowed researches to control for multiple factors and analyze specifically the association between ADHD medication use and suicidal tendencies.

Analysis of children in the study revealed that 8.5% were treated with ADHD medication. 8.8% reported past or current suicidality. Those displaying suicidal tendencies had more externalizing symptoms and were more likely to receive ADHD medication than were non-suicidal children. Researchers found that children with significant externalizing behaviors who were taking ADHD medications demonstrated decreased relative odds for suicidality. At a one year follow-up assessment, children with high externalizing symptoms who received ADHD medication at baseline were less likely to be suicidal, whereas those with high externalizing symptoms not receiving ADHD medication at baseline were more likely to be suicidal. Externalizing symptoms were “measured dimensionally combining hyperactivity ADHD symptoms and ODD and CD symptoms.”

Ran Barzilay, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study, concluded: “Given the connection between childhood suicidality and poor adult mental health, these findings emphasize the importance of better and more thorough screening of school-aged children for externalizing behavioral symptoms. These symptoms are treatable, and addressing them early has the strong potential to prevent and mitigate serious mental health issues later in life.”2


1 Shoval G, Visoki E, Moore TM, et al. Evaluation of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Medications, Externalizing Symptoms, and Suicidality in Children. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(6):e2111342. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.11342

2 ADHD medications associated with reduced risk of suicidality in certain children. Medicalxpress (June 2021)