The latest in a long list of discouraging reports on the state of mental health in America reveals a new suicide risk stemming from a condition that affects nearly 9 million US adults. The findings come at a time when the US is suffering from record suicide rates that rose by another 2.6% during 2022, resulting in nearly 50,000 deaths.
A new CNN study shows that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is associated with a higher risk of suicide, finding that those with ADHD specifically are 30% more likely to attempt suicide. In cases where ADHD leads to depression — a common side effect of the condition — the likelihood of suicide attempts becomes 42% higher.
“These findings illustrate just how important it is for those struggling with mental health issues to have a safe place to share their fears and get support,” says George Kramb, CEO and co-founder of PatientPartner. “One of the big positives of living in a hyper-connected world is having the ability to gather encouragement from those who are going through similar challenges.”
PatientPartner connects patients in a community of empathy and support, boasting over 500 PatientPartner Mentors who share their own healthcare journeys to help others. The organization was created to provide patients with the support, education, and compassion they need when facing stressful medical diagnoses and treatments.
The type of connections facilitated by platforms like PatientPartner have been shown to boost improvement in those suffering from depression and other mental health issues.
The power of patient-to-patient support
A multitude of studies show links between isolation and mental health issues. One-on-one support specifically addresses isolation, connecting patients with those who understand their struggles and are willing to listen. Those who provide support through such networks have experienced healing and are willing to talk about their journey.
“Patient-to-patient support networks can play a significant role in reducing feelings of isolation,” says Kramb. “When leveraged for those dealing with depression and other mental health issues, support networks have the potential to avert a crisis before it happens and, in extreme cases, to save lives.”
Canada’s Centre for Suicide Prevention explains that peer-to-peer support can be especially effective because it avoids the “power structure” that exists in most expert-patient relationships. With peer-to-peer support — as with patient-to-patient support — there is a holistic understanding of struggles and needs that drives an empathetic and supportive relationship. The Centre cites research that suggests those considering suicide find hope in peer-to-peer relationships because they focus on listening, acceptance, and self-empowerment.
The impact on suicide prevention
The value of peer-to-peer support has been shown in a number of settings where the threat of depression and suicide is higher. On college campuses, for example, mental health concerns among students are alarmingly common. A recent study revealed that 44% of students have experienced symptoms of depression, and 15% reported seriously considering suicide.
Further studies have shown that college students are quick to turn to peer-to-peer support when facing mental health issues. In one study, 55% of students said they would talk with a peer about anxiety, 43% said they would talk about depression, and 35% said they would talk about loneliness.
“Peer-to-peer connections have an amazing power to help people navigate safely through difficult seasons,” Kramb explains. “It turns the daunting process of seeking help into a positive and comforting experience by connecting people through relatable experiences. Those who would never take the step of going to see a counselor or doctor can get on the path to recovery by simply having a conversation with a peer who understands.”
Connecting with a peer-to-peer support network also provides a sense of belonging, which is critical for those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. A recent study focused on suicide among Black adolescents found that 8% said they thought of suicide, and 4% had attempted it. For those who reported having a sense of belonging at their school, the risk of suicide decreased by as much as 35%.
Being accepted by a peer support group reduces feelings of rejection and worthlessness, which can also reduce feelings of depression. As those who come to support networks for help find relief and begin helping others, they find a new sense of identity and purpose that drives better mental health.
The stigma associated with mental health issues discourages many from seeking professional help. Patient-to-patient support models reduce the anxiety related to sharing one’s struggles, opening doors to better mental health.
“Anxiety and fear are common emotions to feel when dealing with any health issue,” Kramb shares. “For those who feel alone in the process, the feelings are exacerbated. When you can connect with a tribe of knowledgeable, supportive, and empathetic people, you can find hope to move forward in your journey toward healing.”