Health advice

ADHD and mental health

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ADHD is a condition that affects your focus, memory and concentration. Read more to learn about symptoms, treatment and where else to go for help with ADHD.
What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects a person’s ability to focus, control impulses and manage their behaviour. People with ADHD tend to be diagnosed during childhood (before 12), but it can occasionally be diagnosed in teen years or adulthood. Symptoms vary and can become more apparent as people’s circumstances change, e.g. starting school.1

If you have ADHD, you may also experience a mental health condition like depression, anxiety disorders, or substance abuse.2

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

In general, people with ADHD can present with two different types of behaviour either together or in isolation, these are:

  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing
  • Hyperactivity and impulsiveness. 3
  • Other experiences people may have with ADHD include:

  • Short attention span
  • Appearing forgetful and misplacing items
  • Difficulty completing tasks which take time or could be considered ‘boring’
  • Difficulty carrying out instructions and not completing tasks before starting new ones
  • Difficulty staying still, feeling fidgety and feeling impatient
  • Acting impulsively without consideration of risks or potential negative outcomes e.g. dangerous driving
  • Excessive talking and interrupting others.4
  • How is ADHD diagnosed?

    If you think your child may have ADHD, take note of the behaviours you are concerned about and discuss them with someone who is also close with the child e.g., the child’s teacher, to see if they share your concerns before contacting your GP.

    Your GP cannot diagnose ADHD themselves, but will ask some questions and may ask you to monitor your child’s behaviour to see if they show fewer signs of ADHD, are the same or progressively show more ADHD-related signs.5

    If there isn’t any change after this time, your GP may refer your child to a specialist. A specialist (such as a child psychiatrist) will conduct further investigations to help reach a diagnosis.5

    There are six criteria the specialist will be investigating before diagnosing your child with ADHD. These are:

  • Symptoms present for six months or longer
  • Symptoms have appeared before the age of 12
  • Symptoms are apparent in more than one setting, such as at school and at home
  • Symptoms impact negatively on their life
  • Symptoms cannot be explained by another condition or developmental phase or disorder.5
  • Adults

    Diagnosing ADHD in adults can be challenging. If you think you have any symptoms, talk to your GP. They will assess your symptoms. You may be referred to a specialist, e.g., an adult psychiatrist, if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have not previously been diagnosed with ADHD but you have been experiencing symptoms since childhood
  • The symptoms you have aren’t due to a mental health condition
  • Your symptoms are significantly impacting on your life, e.g. underachieving at work. 5
  • How is ADHD treated?

    There is not a cure for ADHD but treatment can help people if their symptoms are having an impact on their day-to-day life. Treatment can be medical or therapeutic, but most commonly a combination of both is used.

    Medicines will help people with ADHD with their concentration, impulsivity and help them feel calmer. The specialist will tell you the best treatment plan for your symptoms.

    Therapy can be varied but usually involves a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. This is a type of talking therapy which is aimed at helping people overcome challenges they may have with social interaction, listening and control.6

    Therapy can also help you with any mental health condition you may have separate to your ADHD or as a result of your ADHD.7

    How does ADHD impact your mental health?

    It is common for people with ADHD to feel isolated if they are with people who do not understand their condition. If people are unaware of a person’s ADHD, they may believe the person is being difficult and may criticise them unnecessarily. This can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, isolation, anxiety or depression.8

    It is also common for people with ADHD to be misdiagnosed before they receive an ADHD diagnosis. This is because there is a lack of knowledge of ADHD and it takes specialist knowledge to be able to tell the difference between symptoms of ADHD and other symptoms related to mental health conditions.7

    The specialist will be able to identify whether you have a mental health concern which is due to some of the more challenging aspects of living with ADHD. For example, your ADHD may make you feel isolated from your friends which may lead to feelings of low mood or anxiety. These things are considered when creating a treatment plan for you.7

    If you need support with your mental health, you can access different support online or talk to your GP, they may be able to sign post you to local community groups or counsellor which may be able to help. 4

    Visit your nearest pharmacy

    Get support and advice from your local Well pharmacist

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    Where can I get further support and information?


    The NHS has a variety of online resources for people to view on specific topics relating to ADHD and mental health.


    ADHD UK is a charity created by individuals with ADHD for people with ADHD. It offers a lot of information and support for those who need it.


    YoungMinds is an organisation dedicated to help young people with their mental health. It hosts a lot of information about different mental health topics.

    Reviewed by: Mital Thakrar

    Review date: April 2023

    Next review: April 2026

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