A new study that was nationally representative published online by the Journal of Affective Disorders found that one in four individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder had generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) for adults between 20 and 39.
GAD was four times more prevalent in those with ADHD than people who did not have ADHD. Even after adjusting for other factors such as sociodemographics, adverse childhood experiences, and a history of substance abuse disorders as well as major depression, ADHD still has more than twice the likelihood of having GAD.
These findings reveal how vulnerable ADHD adults are to anxiety disorders that affect the entire population. There are numerous studies linking adult ADHD to suicidality and depression However, less attention has been paid to generalized activity disorders and other adverse outcomes across the life course.”
Esme Fuller-Thomson is lead author. She is an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, and director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging.
The study revealed a number of factors that were linked to GAD among people with ADHD. Female respondents with ADHD had nearly five times higher odds of GAD even after accounting for covariates that were not controlled.
“ADHD is a condition that has been largely undiagnosed and untreated for women and girls,” says co-author Andie MacNeil who is an upcoming Master of Social Work (MSW) graduate from the University of Toronto. These results suggest that ADHD women may also be more susceptible to anxiety. This highlights the need for more assistance for ADHD women.
Adults who have had negative childhood experiences such as childhood physical or sexual abuse or constant domestic violence from parents were three times more likely to suffer from generalized anxiety disorders. Sixty percent of ADHD sufferers have had at least one of these negative childhood experiences.
GAD is also linked to adults with ADHD who earn a lower income than $40,000, are less close to their loved ones and who have a history of major depression. The chances of GAD among people with ADHD were six times greater for those with a lifetime history of major depression.
“These results underscore the importance of screening for depression and addressing mental health symptoms when providing support to people suffering from ADHD,” said Lauren Carrique, who recently graduated from the University of Toronto’s MSW program who is a social worker at Toronto General Hospital. “Individuals experiencing ADHD, GAD, and depression are an especially vulnerable subgroup that may need targeted outreach by health professionals.”
Researchers examined an nationally representative sample of 6,898 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental health respondents aged 20-39. Of those, 272 had ADHD and 682 had GAD.
Researchers were not able to find out about the treatment options ADHD respondents were receiving to manage their anxiety. One therapy that is particularly promising is talk-based therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy also known as CBT, has been shown to be very effective for improving depression, anxiety, and ADHD symptoms.
“It is essential that people with ADHD who are suffering from mental health issues reach out for help from their primary care physician or another mental health professionals such as psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists. Effective treatments like CBT are available and can significantly enhance one’s life quality,” said Fuller-Thomson.
Fuller-Thomson, E., et al. (2021) Generalized Anxiety Disorder among Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders. doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2021.10.020.
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