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ADD & ADHD Health Center

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Parents’ Depression, Violence Tied to ADHD in Kids

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What's more, 2.9 percent of kids whose parents reported depression received prescription drugs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, compared with 1.6 percent of children whose parents did not report a history of depression. Medications included those that treat anxiety, depression and sleep problems.

While the study showed an association, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link between intimate partner violence and/or maternal depression and likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis.

Experts said the findings make sense, but more study is needed.

"This study adds to the already robust literature revealing that early life experiences can have profound effects on brain development," said Dr. Michael Duchowny, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children's Hospital. "While heredity is known to play a strong role in the expression of ADHD symptoms, the study further suggests that additional environmental factors operating during the formative years of brain maturation are also significant."

New York City-based child psychoanalyst Dr. Leon Hoffman said the new findings make sense. "Unquestionably, intimate partner violence and maternal depression have a profound effect on children," he said.

Exactly how to deal with this is another story, said Hoffman, who is the co-director of the New York Psychoanalytic Society's Pacella Parent Child Center. "This is a public health problem that needs a lot of funds if reasonably effective programs are to be developed," he noted.

Dr. Rachel Klein, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said the study shows an association based on how parents answered certain questions, but it can't say how, or even if, maternal depression and intimate partner violence predict a child's risk of ADHD.

"If parents are worried, ask the pediatrician to evaluate your child for possible ADHD or refer the child to a mental health professional," she added.

More information

Learn more about ADHD and its treatments at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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