Understanding Suicide and Self-Harm in Children with ADHD

Understanding Suicide and Self-Harm in Children with ADHD: Support Strategies and Insights

Sarah Fischbein, LCSW

Understanding the nuances of suicidal tendencies and self-harm in children and adolescents with ADHD is crucial for parents, caregivers, teachers, and professionals alike. Recent research has shed light on the alarming statistics, revealing that individuals with ADHD are six times more likely to complete suicide, four times more likely to plan it, and three times more likely to contemplate it. This heightened risk is closely tied to the impulsivity characteristic of ADHD, compounded by additional factors such as rejection sensitivity, interpersonal challenges, academic struggles, and co-occurring conditions like anxiety and depression. In this blog post, we delve into the unique presentation of suicidal thoughts and self-harm in this population and explore actionable steps to support them.

Understanding the Challenges

Children and adolescents with ADHD often grapple with rejection sensitivity, influencing how they interpret feedback from peers. This heightened sensitivity can result in more negative feedback and feelings of rejection, making it difficult for them to form and maintain friendships. Persistent struggles with interpersonal relationships contribute to a sense of isolation, further complicating their emotional well-being.

Support Strategies

As caregivers, educators, or professionals working with children and adolescents with ADHD, creating a safe space is paramount. Open communication channels play a crucial role, allowing for discussions about thoughts of suicide or self-harm. It’s essential to approach these conversations with empathy, avoiding any form of shaming. Social skills training proves beneficial in helping these individuals navigate relationships, while empowering and encouraging them to advocate for themselves is equally important.

Practical Steps to Help and Support:

Create a Safe Space

Make sure the child or adolescent feels safe and cared for in their surroundings. This involves creating an environment where they know they are understood and can express themselves freely without judgment.

Open Communication

Keep communication lines open and honest. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and thoughts, and let them know you are there to listen and support them.

Ask Direct Questions

If you are concerned, ask the child or adolescent directly if they have ever thought about hurting themselves or if they have specific plans to do so. This helps to address the issue openly and can guide you in providing the necessary support.

Avoid Shaming

Be understanding and supportive. Refrain from making the individual feel ashamed for any self-harming behaviors they may be engaged in. Instead, focus on offering empathy and assistance.

Social Skills Training

Provide guidance on developing and improving social skills. This can include tips on how to navigate relationships effectively, fostering positive interactions with peers, family, and friends.

Empowerment

Acknowledge the strengths and capabilities of the child or adolescent. Empower them by highlighting their positive qualities and encouraging their efforts in facing challenges.

Self-Advocacy

Assist them in learning how to speak up for themselves when needed. Fostering a sense of control empowers them to express their needs and concerns.

Professional Help

Recognize the importance of seeking help from mental health professionals. They are trained to provide the necessary support and guidance to address mental health needs effectively. If you or someone you know is in crisis, reaching out to professionals is a crucial step for assistance.

The link between ADHD, suicide, and self-harm necessitates a nuanced and compassionate approach from those involved in the lives of these children and adolescents. By creating a supportive environment, promoting open communication, and offering practical assistance, we can significantly contribute to their well-being. Remember, seeking professional help is a crucial step, and if you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those navigating the complex intersection of ADHD and mental health challenges.

Sarah Fischbein, LCSW, is a dedicated professional with a wealth of experience in providing expert support to children and adolescents, also specializing in navigating the complexities of ADHD.

Septier, M., Stordeur, C., Zhang, J., Delorme, R., & Cortese, S. (2019). Association between suicidal spectrum behaviors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 103, 109-118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.05.022

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