Passive Suicidal Ideation and ADHD

Individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may experience passive suicidal ideation. This is often linked to the emotional dysregulation and impulsivity associated with ADHD. In this article, we will take a close look at the relationship between passive suicidal ideation and ADHD. Together, we will understand what passive suicidal ideation is and how it relates to ADHD.
Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Neuroscientist at the University Of Cambridge.

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What Is Passive Suicidal Ideation?

Passive suicidal ideation refers to thoughts about death or the desire to die without a specific plan to commit suicide.

This can be either fantasising about dying during sleep or because of a fatal accident.

However, although the term includes the word “passive” it does not mean that these thoughts are harmless. Quite the contrary, passive suicidal ideation can increase the likelihood of the person putting himself/herself into dangerous situations. This can then lead to active suicidal ideation which includes planning to commit suicide [1].

Passive suicidal ideation can be present as a symptom of various mental health disorders. Commonly, it is seen in major depression, substance abuse or other mood disorders.

Passive suicidal ideation can be also triggered by stressful events like the death of a loved one, divorce or job loss.

It is extremely important to take passive suicidal ideation seriously as it may lead to the worsening of the person’s state. Therefore, if anyone is expressing passive suicidal ideation, they should seek professional help [1].

What Is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodivergent condition. In ADHD, we observe high levels of hyperactivity and impulsive behaviours.

The Americal Psychiatric Association considers ADHD as a valid diagnosis and the prevalence of ADHD amongst adults is 2-5% in the United States [2].

ADHD typically begins in childhood and can persist into adulthood.

ADHD individuals usually have problems with concentrating on a single task or sitting still for extended periods. However, they can experience other symptoms such as ADHD fatigue, ADHD eye contact and research even suggests a link between hypermobility and ADHD.

ADHD impacts a person’s daily life as issues due to the condition may arise in work, studies, relationships and home life [3, 4, 5].

Research has shown a significant association between ADHD and passive suicidal ideation.

In a study of 1 452 Japanese individuals, people with ADHD symptoms had 8 times higher chance for suicidal ideation in comparison to individuals without ADHD symptoms [6].

Further, an investigation of working memory in 623 children revealed that weaker working memory in children with ADHD increased suicidal ideation [7]. Therefore, this study suggested that cognitive impairments associated with ADHD may contribute to the development of passive suicidal ideation.

In another study involving adult patients with ADHD only, it was found that adults with ADHD report suicidal ideation more often (46%) compared to non-ADHD controls (5.9%) [8].

This study also highlighted the high incidence of suicidal ideation in adult ADHD patients, suggesting that clinicians should routinely assess risk factors for suicide among these patients.

In a study involving 788 high school girls, it was found that depressive symptoms partially mediate the relationship between ADHD symptoms and suicidal ideation [9].

Other studies have also suggested possible links between passive suicidal ideation and ADHD [10, 8, 9].

Altogether, it appears that this relationship may be mediated by factors such as cognitive impairments, negative effects and the feeling of burdensomeness and thwarted belongingness. The link between passive suicidal ideation and ADHD highlights the importance of clinical assessments among these patients. However, more research is needed to determine and understand the relationship between ADHD and passive suicidal ideation better.

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Frederika Malichová

Frederika Malichová

Frederika is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Cambridge, where she investigates new biomarkers for Frontotemporal Dementia and other tauopathies. Her research has been published at prestigious conferences such as the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2023. She obtained her BSc in Biomedical Sciences from UCL, where she worked closely with the UK Dementia Research Institute.