Overview: An ADHD diagnosis is more predictive of poor mental health outcomes than other neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.
Source: University of Bath
Adults 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, according to new research led by psychologists at the University of Bath in the UK.
This study is the first to show that ADHD is more predictive of poor mental health outcomes in adults than other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism.
Until now, there has been a lack of information about the effects of ADHD on poor mental health, with much more research focusing on the impact of autism on depression, anxiety and quality of life. As a result, people with ADHD often struggle to access the clinical care they need to manage their symptoms.
The study authors hope their findings will spur new research on ADHD and ultimately improve mental health outcomes for people with the condition. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. The condition is estimated to affect between 3% and 9% of the population.
Speaking on Blue Monday (January 16) — the third Monday in January, described by some as the gloomiest day of the year — lead researcher Luca Hargitai said: “Scientists have long known that autism is linked to anxiety and depression, but ADHD has been somewhat neglected. .
“Researchers have also struggled to statistically separate the importance of ADHD and autism to mental health outcomes because of how often they co-occur.”
Ms. Hargitai, a PhD researcher in Bath, added: “Our aim was to measure precisely how strongly ADHD personality traits were associated with poor mental health, while statistically accounting for autistic traits.”
The new research – a collaboration between the universities of Bath, Bristol and Cardiff, and King’s College London – is published this week in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports. It comes in the same month that two British TV personalities – Johnny Vegas and Sue Perkins – opened up about their recent diagnosis of ADHD.
“The condition affects many people – both children and adults – and the fact that more people are willing to talk about it is welcome,” said Ms Hargitai.
“The hope is that with greater awareness will come more research in this area and better resources to support individuals better manage their mental health.”
Overly active, as if powered by a motor
The study 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 – and responded to statements such as “I often get very preoccupied with one thing” and “How often do you feel overly active and forced 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 someone was to experience severe mental health symptoms.
Through innovative analytical techniques, the study authors further confirmed that having a more ADHD personality was more strongly associated with anxiety and depression than with autistic traits.
These results were replicated in computerized simulations with a reproducibility rate of 100%. This showed with high certainty that ADHD traits are almost certainly associated with more severe anxiety and depression symptoms in adults than autistic traits.
Shifting the focus of research and clinical practice
Ms Hargitai said: “Our findings suggest that research and clinical practice need to shift some of the focus from autism to ADHD. This can help identify those most at risk for anxiety and depression so that preventive measures – such as supporting children and adults in managing their ADHD symptoms – can be introduced earlier to have a greater impact on improving people’s well-being.
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 scientific understanding of neurological disorders.
“By addressing the shortcomings of previous research, our work provides new information about the complex links between neurodiversity and mental health in adults – an area that is often overlooked.
“Further research is now needed to dig deeper into understanding exactly why ADHD is linked to poor mental health, particularly in terms of the mental processes that can drive people with ADHD traits to think anxiously and depressed.
“Currently, funding for ADHD research – especially psychological research – is lacking. This is especially pronounced when compared to the relatively high level of funds targeting autism.
“As the evidence becomes clear that ADHD is not just a childhood illness but persists throughout life, we need to adjust our research agendas to better understand ADHD in adulthood.”
Commenting on the new findings, Dr Tony Floyd, CEO of the ADHD Foundation, said The Neurodiversity Foundation: “This study shows clear evidence of the increased risks of mental health comorbidities associated with ADHD in adults. is a step towards recognizing the wider impact of unmanaged and untreated ADHD. We hope that this research will lead to more research in this area. We also hope that it will lead to changes in the design and delivery of health services .
“The cost implications for the NHS of leaving ADHD untreated, and the need to better train health professionals in both primary and secondary care, are now clearer. And of course there are other costs to consider – for the for UK citizens with ADHD and for their family life, employability and economic well-being These costs are often hidden, but they are significant.
“This research from the University of Bath will add to the growing national debate and the business case for a national review of ADHD health services throughout a person’s lifetime.”
About this news about ADHD and mental health research
Writer: Chris Melvin
Source: University of Bath
Contact: Chris Melvin – University of Bath
Image: The image is in the public domain
Original research: Open access.
“Traits of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are a more important predictor of internalizing problems than autistic traits” by Punit Shah et al. Scientific Reports
Characteristics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are a more important predictor of internalizing problems than autistic characteristics
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are both linked to internalizing problems such as anxiety and depression. ASD and ADHD also often co-occur, making their individual statistical contributions to internalizing disorders difficult to examine.
To address this issue, we examined the unique associations of self-reported ASD traits and ADHD traits with internalizing problems using a large general population sample of UK adults (N= 504, 49% male).
Classical regression analyzes indicated that both ASD traits and ADHD traits were uniquely associated with internalizing problems. Dominance and Bayesian analyzes confirmed that ADHD traits were a stronger, more important predictor of internalizing problems.
However, brief measures of depression and anxiety may not provide a comprehensive index of internalizing problems.
In addition, we aimed to recruit a sample that was representative of the UK population based on age and sex, but not ethnicity, a variable that may be associated with internalizing disorders.
Nevertheless, our findings indicate that while ASD and ADHD uniquely predict internalizing problems, ADHD traits are a more important statistical predictor than ASD traits.
We discuss possible mechanisms underlying this pattern of results and the implications for research and clinical practice related to neurological disorders.