Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not just a childhood disorder, and new research shows that adults with ADHD are four times more likely to have anxiety disorder.
"These findings underline how vulnerable adults with ADHD are to generalized anxiety disorders," said study author Esme Fuller-Thomson. She is a professor at the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging.
"There are many studies linking adult ADHD to depression and suicidality, but less attention has been paid to generalized activity disorders and other adverse outcomes across the life course," Fuller-Thomson said in a university news release.
For the study, her team examined a nationally representative sample of nearly 6,900 respondents from the Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health. The sample included 272 people who had ADHD and 682 who had generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
The connection was even more significant for women, who had five times higher odds of anxiety disorder if they had ADHD, the findings showed.
Study co-author Andie MacNeil, a recent Master of Social Work (MSW) graduate, said, "ADHD has been severely underdiagnosed and undertreated in girls and women. These findings suggest that women with ADHD may also be more susceptible to experiencing anxiety, emphasizing the need for greater support for women with ADHD."
About 60% of those with ADHD who had anxiety disorders had an adverse childhood experience such as childhood sexual or physical abuse, or chronic parental domestic violence, the researchers reported.
Those who experience anxiety disorder along with their ADHD as adults are also more likely to have an income below $40,000, fewer close relationships and a lifetime history of major depressive disorder. The odds of having anxiety disorder with ADHD were sixfold higher for those with a lifetime history of major depressive disorder, the study authors noted.
"These results highlight the importance of screening for mental illness and addressing depressive symptoms when providing support to those with ADHD," said Lauren Carrique, a recent graduate of University of Toronto's MSW program who is a social worker at Toronto General Hospital. "Individuals experiencing ADHD, GAD and depression are a particularly vulnerable subgroup that may need targeted outreach by health professionals."
Though the researchers did not know what anxiety treatments the participants might be receiving, they noted that the talk-based cognitive behavioral therapy, also called CBT, has been shown to be very effective for improving anxiety, depression and ADHD symptoms.
Fuller-Thomson said that "it is crucial that those with ADHD who are struggling with mental health issues reach out for help from their family doctor or other mental health professionals including social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. Effective treatments, such as CBT, are available and these can dramatically improve one's quality of life."
The report was published online Nov. 16 in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on other concerns with ADHD.
SOURCE: University of Toronto, news release, Nov. 18, 2021