A new study, published last week in JAMA Network Open, has found that ADHD medications may lower suicide risk among children with the symptoms of hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, and other behavioral disorders.
Researchers at the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania conducted the study to address childhood suicide risk.
They said it is important to inform suicide prevention strategies at a time when the suicide rate among children is particularly on the rise.
The study’s senior author Dr. Ran Barzilay of LiBI said, “This study is an important step in the much-needed effort of childhood suicide prevention, as it leverages data collected from approximately 12,000 U.S. children to identify an actionable target to reduce childhood suicides.”
In 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals aged between 10 and 24, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The health agency says at least three in four American children with ADHD use prescription medication, while about 15% receive behavioral therapy and 32% receive both treatments, according to United Press International (UPI).
The researchers said suicide rates are comparatively low in preadolescent children so it makes it difficult to identify factors that lead to or prevent suicidal tendencies in that age group.
Dr. Barzilay said, “In an ideal world, we want to test a medication effect on suicidality with a randomized prospective trial, but given the challenges of conducting such studies, we are obligated as a society and as scientists to generate clinical insights using data collected in large-scale observational studies of children.”
The researchers analyzed more than 11,800 children in the study, of which, 8.5% were treated with ADHD medications such as methylphenidate, Adderall, or clonidine, and 8.8% reported past or current suicidality.
Children with suicidal ideation also had more externalizing symptoms and were more likely to receive ADHD medication, according to UPI.
The authors also found that among children who took ADHD medication, the odds for suicidality were less, suggesting that ADHD medications might have a role to play.
“Given the connection between childhood suicidality and poor adult mental health,” Dr. Barzilay said, “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,” he said.