Chances of generalised anxiety disorder increased in adults with ADHD

Generalised anxiety disorder
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A novel study has concluded that adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are far more likely to have a generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

Researchers from the University of Toronto have performed a nationally representative study, revealing that one in four adults with ADHD aged between 20 to 39 had generalised anxiety disorder. The findings of the study are published in the Journal of Affective disorders.

The individuals with ADHD were four times more likely to develop generalised anxiety disorder during their lifetime than those without ADHD. Even when controlling for other factors, such as sociodemographic, adverse childhood experiences, and a lifetime history of substance abuse and major depressive disorders, the team ascertained that adults with ADHD had more than twice the likelihood of having generalised anxiety disorder.

Esme Fuller-Thomson, the lead author of the study and professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging, said: “These findings underline how vulnerable adults with ADHD are to generalised anxiety disorders.

“There are many studies linking adult ADHD to depression and suicidality, but less attention has been paid to generalised anxiety disorders and other adverse outcomes across the life course.”

A nationwide investigation

To conduct their study, the University of Toronto investigators employed and analysed a nationally representative sample of 6,898 respondents from the Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health, all of whom were aged between 20 and 39, with 272 having ADHD and 682 having GAD.

The researchers did not have access to information on any medication’s utilised by the participants to control their anxiety. The experts say that one particularly promising treatment, called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), has been demonstrated to be effective for mitigating anxiety, depression, and ADHD symptoms.

Fuller-Thompson said: “It is crucial that those with ADHD who are struggling with mental health issues reach out for help from their family doctor or another mental health professional including social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. Effective treatments, such as CBT, are available, and these can dramatically improve one’s quality of life.”

What increases the risk of generalised anxiety disorder?

The team identified several essential factors that are associated with adults with ADHD having GAD, with female respondents with ADHD displaying around five times higher odds of developing the condition, even after controlling for other covariates.

Andie MacNeil, a recent Master of Social Work (MSW) graduate from the University of Toronto, said: “ADHD has been severely underdiagnosed and undertreated in girls and women. These findings suggest that women with ADHD may also be more susceptible to experiencing anxiety, emphasising the need for greater support for women with ADHD.”

The study illuminated that the chances of developing generalised anxiety disorder are exacerbated in adults who have experienced adverse experiences in their childhood, such as sexual or physical abuse and parental domestic violence, with these events making GAD three times more likely. Furthermore, 60% of those with ADHD who had an anxiety disorder experienced at least one of these adverse childhood experiences.

Further factors found to be associated with generalised anxiety disorder in adults with ADHD include having an annual income below $40,000, fewer close relationships, and a lifetime history of major depressive disorder. The chances of GAD among adults with ADHD were six-fold for people with a lifetime history of major depressive disorder.

Lauren Carrique, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s MSW program who is a social worker at Toronto General Hospital, said: “These results highlight the importance of screening for mental illness and addressing depressive symptoms when providing support to those with ADHD. Individuals experiencing ADHD, GAD, and depression are a particularly vulnerable subgroup that may need targeted outreach by health professionals.”



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