ADHD label may increase risk of self-harm in teens, study suggests

An ADHD diagnosis in adolescents doesn't improve their self-reported quality of life and may increase risk of self-harm, new research says. Photo by ivabalk/Pixabay

An ADHD diagnosis in adolescents doesn’t improve their self-reported quality of life and may increase risk of self-harm, new research says. Photo by ivabalk/Pixabay

Oct. 13 (UPI) — Diagnosing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, in adolescents doesn’t improve their self-reported quality of life compared with teens with similar behaviors but no diagnosis. And it may significantly increase their risk of self-harm.

That’s according to an original investigation published Thursday in JAMA Network Open.

An ADHD diagnosis usually triggers drug or non-pharmacological interventions.

So, the researchers, led by Luise Kazda, a member of the faculty of medicine and health at The University of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia, hypothesized that children and adolescents would benefit from this diagnosis more than youths with similar behaviors and demographic characteristics but no such diagnosis.

The scientists used data on children and teens between ages 6 and 15 from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

Roughly 400 adolescents with an ADHD diagnosis, as reported by their parents, were matched by age, sex and hyperactive/inattentive scores with about 400 adolescents without ADHD diagnosis.

The researchers used exact matching on sex, so the groups contained equal numbers of boys and girls.

They used the World Health Organization’s assessment tool consisting of six domains for measuring quality of life: physical, including energy and fatigue levels; psychological, including body image; level of independence, including mobility; social relationships; environment, including physical safety and security; and spirituality/religion/personal beliefs.

They discovered that children diagnosed with ADHD reported similar or poorer quality of life at ages 14 to 15 compared with children who had grown up experiencing the same behaviors without being pronounced to have ADHD.

And the data indicated that teens at ages 14 to 15 with an ADHD diagnosis had “substantially higher odds for self-harm” compared with those without such a diagnosis.

They also found the most unfavorable associations of ADHD diagnosis with quality of life generally occurred in individuals first diagnosed at 6 to 7 years old.

“It is unclear how much of the negative outcomes associated with ADHD in children can be attributed to impairment resulting from the condition itself and how much is due to the labeling effect of the ADHD diagnosis,” the research paper said.

In September, the Australian researchers published a study in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry finding that despite rising ADHD diagnosis rates, most children may be misdiagnosed or over-diagnosed: 26.5% had behaviors “in the normal range,” and 27.6% had “borderline scores.”

Separately, a study from Oregon Health & Science University in Portland came to similar conclusions. The investigators found the national prevalence of ADHD among 9-to-10-year-old children was 3.53% — substantially below many previous estimates.

That research appeared in the October 2022 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

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