This is the first study to indicate that ADHD predicts poor mental health outcomes in adulthood more than other neurodevelopmental diseases such as autism.
People with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Struggle for Therapeutic Care
There has previously been a scarcity of knowledge on the impacts of ADHD on poor mental health, with significantly more studies focusing on the impact of autism on despair, anxiety, and quality of life. As a result, people with ADHD frequently struggle to obtain the therapeutic care they require to manage their symptoms.
The study’s authors hope that their findings will spark further research into ADHD, ultimately improving the mental health outcomes for those with the illness.
Blue Monday- Gloomiest Day of the Year
“Scientists have long recognized that autism is linked to anxiety and sadness, but ADHD has been relatively disregarded,” stated lead researcher Luca Hargitai on Blue Monday (January 16), the third Monday of January, described by some as the gloomiest day of the year.
“Researchers have also struggled to statistically separate the importance of ADHD and autism for mental health outcomes because of how frequently they occur together.”
Ms. Hargitai, a Ph.D. researcher at Bath, added, “We aimed to precisely measure how strongly ADHD personality traits were linked to poor mental health while statistically accounting for autistic traits.”
People Are Willing to Discuss Mental Health Issues
The new study, conducted in collaboration with the Universities of Bath, Bristol, and Cardiff, as well as King’s College London, was published in the prominent journal Scientific Reports. It comes in the same month that two British TV personalities, Johnny Vegas and Sue Perkins, revealed their recent ADHD diagnosis.
“The condition affects many people – both children and adults – and the fact that more people are willing to talk about it is to be welcomed,” said Ms. Hargitai. “The hope is that with greater awareness will come more research in this area and better resources to support individuals in better managing their mental health.”
A large, nationally representative sample of people from the UK population was employed in the study. All participants filled out gold standard questionnaires, one on autistic qualities and one on ADHD traits, answering to lines like “I regularly get strongly absorbed in one thing” and “How often do you feel too active and forced to accomplish things, as if you were propelled by a motor?”
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Linked with Anxiety and Depression
The researchers discovered that ADHD qualities were highly predictive of the intensity of anxiety and depression symptoms: the more ADHD traits a person had, the more likely he or she is to have severe mental health symptoms. The study authors confirmed that having an ADHD personality was more closely associated with anxiety and depression than autistic features using unique analytical methodologies.
These findings were repeated with a 100% ‘reproducibility rate’ in computer simulations. It demonstrated with high certainty that ADHD features are virtually likely associated with more severe anxiety and depression symptoms in adults than in autism traits.
Ms Hargitai said, “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 well-being.”
Another crucial element of the current study, according to Dr. Punit Shah, senior author, and associate professor of Psychology at Bath, is that it increases scientific understanding of neurodevelopmental problems.
“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 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, CEO of the ADHD Foundation, The Neurodiversity Foundation, said, “This research demonstrates clear evidence of the increased risks of mental health comorbidities associated with adult ADHD. This is a step towards recognising the broader impact of unmanaged and untreated ADHD. We hope this research will lead to more research being commissioned in this area. We also hope it will result in changes to the design and delivery of health services.”
“The cost implications to the NHS of leaving ADHD untreated, and the need to better train health practitioners in both primary and secondary care, are now more apparent. And of course, there are other costs too that need to be considered – to the health of UK citizens with ADHD and their family life, employability, and economic well-being. These costs are often hidden but they are considerable. This research from Bath University will add to the growing national debate and the business case for a national review of health services for ADHD across a person’s lifespan.”
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