Adults with high levels of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than adults with high levels of autistic traits, according to new research led by psychologists at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.
This study is the first to show that ADHD is more predictive of poor mental health outcomes in adults than other neurodevelopmental conditions, such as autism.
Until now, there has been a paucity of information on the effects of ADHD on poor mental health, with much more research focusing on the impact of autism on depression, anxiety, and quality of life. As a result, people with ADHD often have difficulty accessing the clinical care they need to deal with their symptoms.
The study authors hope their findings will lead to further research on ADHD and ultimately improve mental health outcomes for people with the condition. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. The condition is estimated to affect between 3% and 9% of the population.
Speaking about Blue Monday (January 16), the third Monday in January, described by some as the gloomiest day of the year, lead researcher Luca Hargitai said: “Scientists have known for a long time that autism is linked to with anxiety and depression, but ADHD has been somewhat neglected.
“Researchers have also had trouble statistically separating the importance of ADHD and autism for mental health outcomes because of how often they occur together.”
Ms. Hargitai, Ph.D. The Bath researcher added: “Our aim was to accurately measure how strongly ADHD personality traits were related to poor mental health while accounting for autistic traits statistically.”
The new research, a collaborative effort between the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Cardiff, and King’s College London, is published this week in the prestigious journal scientific reports. It comes the same month that two British television personalities, Johnny Vegas and Sue Perkins, opened up about their recent ADHD diagnoses.
“The condition affects many people, both children and adults, and the fact that more people are willing to talk about it is welcome,” said Ms. Hargitai. “The hope is that with increased awareness comes more research in this area and better resources to help people better manage their mental health.”
Too active, like it’s driven by a motor
The study used a large and nationally representative sample of adults from the UK population. All participants completed gold standard questionnaires, one on autistic traits, the other on ADHD traits, responding to statements such as “I often get too absorbed in one thing” and “How often do you feel overly active and compelled to do things, like you? were they powered by a motor?”
The researchers found that ADHD traits were highly predictive of the severity of anxiety and depression symptoms: the higher the levels of ADHD traits, the more likely a person is to experience severe mental health symptoms. Through innovative analytical techniques, the study authors further confirmed that having more personality with ADHD was more strongly related to anxiety and depression than autistic traits.
These results were replicated in computer simulations with a “reproducibility rate” of 100%. This showed, with great confidence, that ADHD traits are almost certainly related to more severe anxiety and depression symptoms in adults than autistic traits.
Changing the focus of research and clinical practice
Ms Hargitai said: “Our findings suggest that research and clinical practice need to shift some of the focus from autism to ADHD. This may help identify people most at risk for anxiety and depression so that preventive measures, such as supporting children and adults with their ADHD symptoms under control—can be implemented sooner to have a greater impact on improving people’s well-being.”
According to Dr Punit Shah, lead author and Associate Professor of Psychology at Bath, another important aspect of the new study is that it advances scientific understanding of neurodevelopmental conditions.
“By addressing the shortcomings of previous research, our work provides new insight into the complex links between neurodiversity and adult mental health, an area that is often overlooked.
“More research is now needed to gain an understanding of exactly why ADHD is linked to poor mental health, particularly in terms of the mental processes that might lead people with ADHD traits to have anxious and depressive thoughts.
“At the moment, funding for ADHD research, particularly psychological research, is lacking. This is especially pronounced when compared to the relatively high level of funding devoted to autism.
“As the evidence becomes clearer that ADHD is not just a childhood condition, but persists throughout life, we must adjust our research agendas to better understand ADHD in adulthood.”
Commenting on the new findings, Dr. Tony Floyd, Executive Director of the ADHD Foundation, The Neurodiversity Foundation, said: “This research demonstrates clear evidence of increased risks of mental health comorbidities associated with ADHD in adults. This is a step toward recognition of the broader impact of uncontrolled and untreated ADHD. We hope this research will lead to more commissioned research in this area. We also hope it will result in changes in the design and delivery of health services.
“The financial implications for the NHS of leaving ADHD untreated, and the need to better train healthcare professionals in both primary and secondary care, are now more apparent. And of course there are other costs as well. to consider: for UK citizens with ADHD’s health and family life, employability and financial well-being These costs are often hidden but considerable.
“This research from the University of Bath will add to the growing national debate and business case for a national review of ADHD health services across a person’s life.”
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder traits are a stronger predictor of internalizing problems than autistic traits. scientific reports (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-26350-4
Provided by the University of Bath
Citation: The link between mental health and ADHD is strong, so why aren’t we paying attention? (2023, Jan 16) Retrieved Jan 16, 2023 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2023-01-link-mental-health-adhd-strongso.html
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