ADHD and mental health
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
In general, people with ADHD can present with two different types of behaviour either together or in isolation, these are:
Other experiences people may have with ADHD include:
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:
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:
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
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
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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.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - Symptoms – NHS https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/symptoms/
- ADHD in adults https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/adhd-in-adults
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – Diagnosis https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/diagnosis/
- Scenario: Management | Management | Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder | CKS | NICE https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/management/management/
- ADHD and mental health https://adhdaware.org.uk/what-is-adhd/adhd-and-mental-health<
- ADHD and Mental Health | Signs and Symptoms of ADHD https://www.youngminds.org.uk/young-person/mental-health-conditions/adhd-and-mental-health/
Reviewed by: Mital Thakrar
Review date: April 2023
Next review: April 2026