by Amy Norton
Health Day Reporter
THURSDAY, Jan. 19, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be a better predictor of depression and anxiety in adulthood than autism, a new study finds — highlighting Mental Health Disorders.
It is well known that children and adults with ADHD often have co-morbidities, including depression and anxiety. According to the National ADHD Resource Center, studies show that about 14 percent of children with ADHD suffer from depression, and up to 30 percent suffer from anxiety disorders.
Meanwhile, adults with ADHD were more affected — up to half of each condition.
The new study adds to what is known by showing that ADHD is more closely linked to anxiety and depression than “autistic traits,” the researchers said. Autism impairs communication and social skills and is itself associated with higher than normal levels of these mental health conditions.
These findings were reviewed by Richard Gallagher, associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health in New York City, which highlights the mental health component of ADHD.
“There is an idea that people with ADHD have a ‘simple’ problem with paying attention,” he said. “They just have to learn to sit back and focus.”
But like autism, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can cause serious problems at school, work, family and relationships, Gallagher said.
“Over time, it affects quality of life,” he said. For example, if a young person with ADHD is convinced they will not be able to complete a task or be able to complete it, this may contribute to anxiety or depression.
It’s also possible that some people are more susceptible to all three conditions, said Punit Shah, a senior researcher on the new study.
“We know there are some common genetic factors that predispose people to ADHD as well as anxiety and depression,” said Shah, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Bath, UK.
Gallagher agrees that this can also play a role, noting that difficulties with emotion regulation are a feature of ADHD. This could mean that there is some overlap in brain regions involved in different conditions.
Findings – Published online January 16 in the journal Scientific Report—— Based on 504 UK adults who completed standard questionnaires measuring ADHD and autism traits as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Overall, Shah’s team found that ADHD traits and depression/anxiety symptoms rose in tandem in the study group: The more severe the ADHD traits, the more severe the mental health symptoms. There was also a correlation between autistic traits and mental health, but to a lesser extent.
“ADHD was statistically more strongly associated with anxiety and depression than autistic traits,” Shah said.
The study did not look at 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 who are evaluated for ADHD should also be evaluated for their emotional well-being. Attention problems are also seen in depression and anxiety disorders, so those causes should be ruled out, he noted.
Even with an ADHD diagnosis, though, mental health requires attention, Gallagher said. Ideally, young people with ADHD should be evaluated for mental health over time.
“It’s important to realize that neurodevelopmental conditions, such as ADHD, can be accompanied by emotional problems that require attention,” Gallagher said.
Standard treatment for ADHD in adults usually includes medication, training in skills such as organization and time management, and counseling. If depression or anxiety is also present, standard psychotherapy for these conditions can help, Gallagher said.
According to Shah, more research is needed to understand why ADHD is strongly associated with depression and anxiety. He said his team is “doing a series of studies” on ADHD, autism and mental health.
The Mayo Clinic has more information on ADHD in adults.
Sources: Punit Shah, PhD, MSc, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Bath, UK; Richard Gallagher, PhD, Associate Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Organizational Skills and Executive Function Therapy Program, NYU Langone Health, New York City director; scientific reportOnline, January 16, 2023