In a study from the University of Bath, scientists found people with high levels of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than adults with high levels of autistic traits.
They found that ADHD is more predictive of poor mental health outcomes in adults than other neurodevelopmental conditions, like autism.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. The condition is estimated to affect between 3% and 9% of the population.
Until now, there has been a dearth of information on the effects of ADHD on poor mental health, with far more research focusing on the impact of autism on depression, anxiety and quality of life.
As a result, people with ADHD have often struggled to access the clinical care they need to cope with their symptoms.
In the study, the team used a large, nationally representative sample of adults from the UK population.
All participants completed gold-standard questionnaires, one on autistic traits, the other on ADHD traits.
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 is to experience severe mental health symptoms.
Through innovative analytical techniques, the study authors further confirmed that having more of an ADHD personality was more strongly linked to anxiety and depression than autistic traits.
These results were replicated in computerized simulations with a 100% ‘reproducibility rate’.
This showed that ADHD traits are almost certainly linked to more severe anxiety and depression symptoms in adults than autistic traits.
The new findings suggest that research and clinical practice must shift some of the focus from autism to ADHD.
The team says 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.
For more information about mental health, please see recent studies about common medications for anxiety, and results showing two in five adults with ADHD have excellent mental health.
The study was conducted by Luca Hargitai et al and published in Scientific Reports.
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