The overlooked link between mental health and ADHD

The overlooked link between mental health and ADHD
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A new UK study by the University of Bath establishes a clear link between mental health and ADHD in adults.

According to new research from the University of Bath, adults with high levels of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms are more likely to experience mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression than adults with high levels of autistic traits. This is the first study to demonstrate the link between mental health and ADHD.

Until now, there has been a lack of information surrounding the effects of ADHD on poor mental health, with far more research focussing on how autism is linked to depression, anxiety and quality of life. The authors hope that the link between mental health and ADHD may improve health outcomes for people with the condition.

The research is published in Scientific Reports.

ADHD traits are predictive of the severity of anxiety and depression

The study used a large, nationally representative sample of adults from the UK population to review any potential links between mental health and ADHD. The participants completed gold-standard questionnaires on autistic and ADHD traits; responding to statements such as “I frequently get strongly absorbed in one thing” and “How often do you feel overly active and compelled to do things like you were driven 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 will experience mental health symptoms. The researchers employed analytical techniques which also confirmed that having more of an ADHD personality was more strongly linked to anxiety and depression than autistic traits.

Furthermore, the link between mental health and ADHD was revealed in computerised simulations with a 100% ‘reproducibility rate’, showing with great confidence that ADHD traits are almost certainly linked with severe anxiety and depression symptoms in adults more than autistic traits.

Offering new hope for understanding mental health and ADHD

Lead researcher, Luca Hargitai, commented: “Our findings suggest that research and clinical practice must shift some of the focus from autism to ADHD. This may help to identify those most at risk of anxiety and depression so that preventative measures – such as supporting children and adults with the management of their ADHD symptoms – can be put in place earlier to have a greater impact on improving people’s wellbeing.”

According to Dr Punit Shah, senior author and associate professor of Psychology at Bath, another important aspect of the new study is that it advances the scientific understanding of neurodevelopmental conditions.

“By addressing the shortcomings of previous research, our work provides fresh information about the complex links between neurodiversity and mental health in adults – an area that is often overlooked.

“Further research is now needed to delve deeper into understanding exactly why ADHD is linked to poor mental health, particularly in terms of the mental processes that might drive people with ADHD traits to engage in anxious and depressive thinking.

“At the moment, funding for ADHD research – particularly psychological research – is lacking. This is especially pronounced when you compare it to the relatively high level of funds directed at autism.

“As the evidence becomes clear that ADHD isn’t just a childhood condition but persists throughout life, we must adjust our research agendas to better understand ADHD in adulthood.”

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