By Amy Norton
health day reporter
THURSDAY, Jan. 19, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be an even stronger predictor of depression and anxiety in adulthood than autism, according to a new study – highlighting the mental health side of the disorder.
It is known that children and adults with ADHD often have coexisting conditions, including depression and anxiety. Research suggests that about 14% of children with ADHD have depression, while up to 30% have an anxiety disorder, according to the National ADHD Resource Center.
Adults with ADHD, meanwhile, are hit even harder – with each condition affecting up to half.
The new study, the researchers say, adds to what is known by showing that ADHD is even more strongly linked to anxiety and depression than “autistic traits”. Autism, which impairs communication and social skills, is itself linked to higher than normal rates of these mental health problems.
The findings shed light on the mental health component of ADHD, according to Richard Gallagher, associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health in New York, who reviewed the findings.
“There’s a notion that people with ADHD have a ‘simple’ attention problem,” he said. “They just need to learn to sit and concentrate.”
But like autism, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, and it can cause significant problems at school, work, home and in relationships, Gallagher said.
“Over time, it can impact quality of life,” he said. If, for example, young people with ADHD become convinced that they will “fail” to complete tasks or do them well, this could fuel anxiety or depression.
It’s also possible that some people are more vulnerable to all three conditions, said Punit Shah, lead researcher of the new study.
“We know there are common genetic factors that make people susceptible to both ADHD, anxiety and depression,” said Shah, associate professor of psychology at the University of Bath in the UK. .
Gallagher agreed this could also play a role, noting that difficulties with emotional regulation are a hallmark of ADHD. This could mean that there is some overlap in the areas of the brain involved in the different conditions.
The results – published online January 16 in the journal Scientific reports — are based on 504 UK adults who completed standard questionnaires assessing ADHD and autism traits, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Overall, Shah’s team found that ADHD traits and depression/anxiety symptoms increased in tandem in the study group: the more severe the ADHD traits, the worse the mental health symptoms. are serious. There was also a correlation between autism traits and mental health, but it was weaker.
“ADHD is statistically more strongly linked to anxiety and depression than autism traits,” Shah said.
The study did not investigate whether participants had ever been formally diagnosed and treated for ADHD or autism, and whether this affected the likelihood of depression/anxiety in adulthood.
According to Gallagher, children assessed for ADHD should also have their emotional well-being assessed. Attention problems are also seen in depression and anxiety disorders, so these causes need to be ruled out, he noted.
Even if ADHD is the diagnosis, however, Gallagher said, mental wellbeing should remain on the radar. Ideally, young people with ADHD should have their mental health assessed over time.
“It’s important to be aware that neurodevelopmental conditions, like ADHD, can come with emotional issues that require attention,” Gallagher said.
Standard treatments for ADHD in adulthood usually involve medication, training in skills such as organization and time management, and psychological counseling. If depression or anxiety are also present, Gallagher said, standard psychological therapies for those conditions can help.
According to Shah, more research is needed to understand why ADHD is so strongly linked to depression and anxiety. He said his team is “running a series of studies” on ADHD, autism and mental health.
The Mayo Clinic has more on ADHD in adults.
SOURCES: Punit Shah, PhD, MSc, associate professor, psychology, University of Bath, UK; Richard Gallagher, PhD, Associate Professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Director, Organizational Skills and Executive Functions Treatment Program, NYU Langone Health, New York; Scientific reportsJanuary 16, 2023, online