- ADHD may be a risk factor for other mental disorders, according to a new study.
- Major depression, PTSD, anorexia nervosa, and suicide attempts were all linked to ADHD.
- The association between ADHD and other disorders could be due to genetics.
- It is also possible that the symptoms of ADHD can contribute to the development of other mental disorders.
- Experts suggest that a comprehensive treatment plan that takes into account co-occurring disorders is best.
According to the findings, mental health conditions associated with ADHD include:
- major depressive disorder (MDD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- anorexia nervosa
- suicidal behavior
The study authors note that previous observational studies have found a link between ADHD and various mental disorders. However, it is unclear whether ADHD causes them.
They also suggest that mental health professionals treating patients with ADHD should be aware of the possibility that these other mental disorders could co-occur with ADHD.
The American Psychiatric Association states that ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders experienced by children. Symptoms of ADHD include:
- inability to remain focused
- engaging in excess movement in inappropriate settings
- acting impulsively
To better understand how ADHD could lead to other mental health disorders, the researchers used a technique called “
Mendelian randomization uses genetic variants to represent risk factors to provide evidence of whether that risk factor is causing the observed effect.
The team examined seven mental health issues to establish what sort of links existed between these conditions and ADHD, including:
- major depression
- bipolar disorder
- anxiety disorder
- anorexia nervosa
- having at least one suicide attempt
Their analysis found no evidence that ADHD might be causing bipolar disorder, anxiety, or schizophrenia.
However, it did appear that ADHD increased the risk for anorexia nervosa. There was also evidence that ADHD both caused and was caused by major depression.
There also seemed to be a causal link between ADHD and both suicide attempts and PTSD.
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- Call 911 or your local emergency services number if you feel safe to do so.
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The researchers noted that while this type of study can provide stronger evidence of causation than the observational studies that have been done in the past, it does have certain weaknesses.
For example, it’s possible that ADHD and another mental disorder could both share the same genetic cause without ADHD itself causing the other disorder.
Dr. Ellen Braaten — who is an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School as well as the executive director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of “Bright Kids Who Couldn’t Care Less” — said there are both primary and secondary reasons why people with ADHD are at risk.
“The primary reasons are due to genetics and biology,” she told Healthline. “ADHD is a condition that is often inherited, and the genes that are linked to ADHD are linked to other disorders as well. In addition, the genes associated with ADHD are thought to be involved in the development of the brain.”
Braaten explained that people with ADHD often have low levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger in the nervous system that plays a role in feeling pleasure. When people have low levels of dopamine, it can lead to symptoms like depression and anxiety.
Dr. Braaten further explained that the secondary reasons for the association between ADHD and other mental disorders have to do with the fallout that comes from its symptoms, such as impulsivity, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity.
“When someone exhibits problems in one of these areas, they are at higher risk for difficulties in social situations (causing feelings of depression),” she explained.
“They might be more apt to do something dangerous because they’re impulsive. This might result in a traumatic situation that can cause PTSD.”
Dr. Harold Hong, a board certified psychiatrist and Medical Director of New Waters Recovery, advised the importance of “early and optimal” treatment in preventing additional psychiatric conditions.
“Early intervention often enables more effective symptom management,” he explained, “allowing individuals to build essential coping skills that can foster mental resilience.”
This can not only alleviate current ADHD symptoms but it can also help prevent future problems.
Hong additionally stressed the importance of having good nutrition and adequate exercise.
“Exercise releases mood-enhancing endorphins, which can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety that are often comorbid with ADHD,” said Hong.
He further pointed to
Hong added that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be very helpful for those with ADHD. CBT can help individuals manage their ADHD symptoms and improve their coping skills, which may, in turn, help prevent the onset of other mental disorders like anxiety and depression.
Finally, Hong expressed the importance of a comprehensive treatment plan tailored toward the management of all conditions that a person has. This can reduce the risk that one will exacerbate the other, he explained.
“This approach often involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle modifications, each chosen to not only manage ADHD but also to prevent or treat comorbid conditions like depression, anxiety, or substance use disorders,” Hong concluded.
ADHD may be a risk factor for other mental disorders, according to a new study.
Risk of major depression, PTSD, anorexia nervosa, and suicide attempts were all linked to ADHD.
The association between ADHD and other disorders could be due to genetics.
It is also possible that the symptoms of ADHD can contribute to the development of other mental disorders.
Experts suggest that a comprehensive treatment plan that takes into account co-occurring disorders is best.