Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD, is rarely taken as seriously as disorders like depression or anxiety, but it definitely should be — and recent research drives home one of the many reasons why. According to a new study published online in Child: Care, Health and Development, women with ADHD may be more likely to consider suicide than those without the disorder, and they report nearly triple the rates of certain mental and physical health problems.
In the study, researchers at the University of Toronto analyzed data from female participants between the ages of 20 and 39 in the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health, which collects information on the population's mental health across the country. Of the 3,908 participants, a little over 100 reported they had ADHD. When researchers compared the mental and physical health of women with ADHD to women without the disorder, a disturbing trend arose: According to the study, women with ADHD were more than three times as likely to say they experienced suicidal thoughts, generalized anxiety disorder, and insomnia. Furthermore, they were twice as likely to report past or present substance abuse, depressive disorders, and current smoking.
"Even after adjustments for age, race, education and income, women with ADHD had substantially higher odds of a wide range of problems," the authors wrote in Child: Care, Health and Development.
In addition to psychological disorders, ADHD was associated with a number of physical conditions. Women with ADHD were far more likely to report chronic pain, childhood physical or sexual abuse, and severe poverty; in contrast, just 13 percent of women without ADHD reported difficulty making ends meet. It's worth noting that a variety of other studies have shown a relationship between financial stress and mental illness, and it's been suggested that abuse in childhood "primes" the brain in a way for future psychological disorders.
ADHD's primary symptoms may not seem severe when taken on their own; according to the Mayo Clinic, the disorder is characterized by "difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior." However, these symptoms can lead to problems in other areas of someone's life, such as unstable relationships, low self-esteem, and angry outbursts. Previous research has shown that it often occurs alongside other disorders, particularly depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
What makes the University of Toronto's study notable, however, is its focus on women as well as the severity of their findings. ADHD is often assumed to be the territory of children and men, but it actually occurs in both men and women in approximately equal amounts. When research on adult ADHD focuses heavily on men, women are left behind — and as the study shows, ADHD is associated with devastating consequences. Particularly troubling is the higher rate of suicidal ideation; according to researchers, nearly half of women with ADHD reported considering suicide, nearly four times the rate of the general population.