Is ADHD a Mental Health Disorder?

Some people mistakenly assume that because ADHD affects the brain, it's automatically a mental health disorder. But that's not the case. In reality, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that it affects the way the brain functions. And although it's possible to struggle with your mental health for ADHD-related reasons, ADHD doesn't directly cause those issues.

The Link Between ADHD and Mental Health

Research shows that having ADHD does increase the likelihood that someone will have mental health problems. Again, this doesn't mean that ADHD directly causes mental health issues. Instead, it means that the prevalence of these issues appears to be higher in people with ADHD compared to those who do not.

For example, children with ADHD have a higher chance of developing childhood depression and anxiety disorders. Similar results have been found in studies of adults with ADHD, with an increased risk of anxiety and depression among those who have the disorder. Furthermore, people with ADHD are more likely than those without the disorder to develop a substance use disorder.

So why do people with ADHD seem more likely to struggle with mental health? Some experts believe that the demoralizing feelings that people with ADHD often experience can contribute to these types of mental health issues. When someone's ADHD symptoms make it difficult to meet expectations or lead to negative reactions from others, it can cause them to feel discouraged and may lower their self-worth. These types of experiences may lead to depression, and some individuals may cope through substance use.

Negative interactions like these can also create feelings of anxiety. People with ADHD may begin to dread certain environments or tasks if they anticipate yet another critical reaction from others or feelings of defeat. For example, a child may develop anxiety about going to school if they have a teacher who isn't supportive of their needs.

Mental Health Treatment for ADHD

Those who are struggling with both ADHD and mental health issues have a number of resources at their disposal. The most important resource is your healthcare provider. If you're not already receiving treatment for your ADHD, or if your current treatment isn't as effective as you'd like it to be, that should be your first priority in getting the help you need. 

Those who are able to find an effective ADHD medication may find that improved management of their symptoms is also effective at improving their mental health. Removing the constant worries and stress associated with ADHD behaviors can help to alleviate symptoms of depression or anxiety.

You don't have to rely on your ADHD medication alone to deal with mental health issues, however. Don't hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider if you feel that you may need an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication as well. You can safely take both medications under the supervision of a licensed clinician.

Don't forget that medication is only one piece of the treatment puzzle for ADHD and issues like depression and anxiety. Therapy can also be very helpful for both ADHD and mental health disorders. You may even want to try different types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for ADHD and psychoanalytic therapy for depression, to get the best results.

The Best Mental Health Resources for ADHD

Besides getting the right treatment in place with the help of a healthcare provider, where else can you turn for help with your ADHD and mental health?

There are a number of mental health resources for ADHD. Depending on what kind of help you're looking for, you have a number of different options.

Talk to someone over the phone

If you need to talk to someone about your struggles, don't wait to reach out. You can call up a friend or family member, of course, but when that's not an option or you don't feel comfortable discussing your issues with someone close, try one of these hotlines:

  • NAMI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a hotline available Monday through Friday from 10am-10pm ET. You can call via phone (800-950-6264) or text "Helpline" to 62640. They also have a chat option on their website.
  • SAMHSA: For 24/7 assistance 365 days a year, you can turn to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Their free hotline can be reached at 800-662-4357.
  • 998: If you feel like you're in a crisis or are having suicidal thoughts, call or text 988.

Join a support group

Support groups for ADHD offer a way to connect and experience feelings of community with others who understand what you're going through. Go to the websites for organizations like CHADD or Psychology Today to find a support group near you. In addition to in-person meetings, there are virtual support groups available as well.