Many people with ADHD aren't aware they have it. They will be aware however that everyday tasks seem more difficult for them than for others. Typical symptoms are finding it hard to focus, missing deadlines and trouble controlling impulses, ranging from impatience to mood swings and outbursts of anger. Other symptoms include:
The above list may be familiar to most people at different times in their lives. If these symptoms occur only occasionally, they probably don't have ADHD. A doctor usually diagnoses when someone’s symptoms cause problems that stop a person working, finding stable housing, or living normally and safely.
Diagnosis of ADHD in adults is often trickier because the same symptoms also occur in mental health conditions, such as anxiety or mood disorders. Many adults with ADHD also have at least one other mental health condition (depression and anxiety are the most common).
Symptoms usually start before the age of 12 and continue into adulthood.
ADHD is a lifelong condition, though it often becomes less marked in adulthood. But it can be effectively managed. The first step is to see a doctor and start seeking a diagnosis.
In the UK, the incidence of ADHD in school-aged children is thought to be between 3 and 5%. In adults it is between 3 and 4%.
We still don’t know for sure. An enormous amount of research is focused on finding the causes of ADHD. Factors that may be involved include:
The risk of a person developing ADHD may increase if:
ADHD has been linked to:
Making the diagnosis normally includes:
ADHD is normally treated through a two-pronged approach:
Doctors might prescribe stimulants for ADHD – which might seem counterintuitive, but has a strong evidence basis for regulating brain activity.
Some ADHD patients might also benefit from antidepressants or other medication, but in every case a doctor is best placed to advise on what to take.
Psychotherapy is indicated for people with ADHD but behavioural therapies can also help manage traits that make people with ADHD disorganised, and teach useful skills as well.
NHS Choices provides information about the signs, symptoms and treatment for depression.
For people with an ADHD diagnoses, this charity provides resources and advocacy.
Aimed at young people, this profile of ADHD explains what it is, how to seek treatment and mental health concerns for people with ADHD in a clear and straightforward way.
When a person is adjusting to new circumstances such as a new home or job, their sleep might be disturbed for a period. If a person has less than three months of disturbed sleep, their insomnia is still classed as short-term.
Some people struggle with sleep for long periods of life. If someone struggles to sleep for three months, with symptoms three or more times a week, they would be treated for chronic insomnia.
A person with insomnia might find it hard to get off to sleep at night, lie awake, wake in the night, or wake early and struggle to get back to sleep.
They might find this makes them feel tired and irritable during the day and affects concentration. Some people with insomnia also struggle to nap during the day after a poor night’s sleep.
If after a couple of weeks of poor sleep you notice you have been unable to get back to a normal pattern, seek help from your GP. Adults need around seven, eight or nine hours sleep a night to work best during the day.
There are a number of factors that contribute to insomnia, but anxiety and poor sleep hygiene (including disruptive background noise, temperature extremes, or uncomfortable bedding) are top of the list. Sometimes people can identify ‘triggers’ around the time insomnia began for them, such as stress or change, which might explain why they have struggled to sleep since.
Stress, anxiety and depression are common causes of insomnia, but sleeping somewhere that’s noisy, hot or cold or uncomfortable (known as ‘poor sleep hygiene’) can also stop people sleeping. Alcohol, caffeine and recreational drugs disturb sleep, as does jet-lag and shift work (i.e. late-ending or night-time shifts).
It’s estimated that as much as a third of adults in the UK struggle with insomnia.
Insomnia can be a lifelong problem. Some people find it comes and goes, and for most people it resolves within weeks or months
Therapists can help cope with exacerbations of stress, depression or anxiety that might coincide with poor sleep.
One form of CBT (CBT-i) has been developed for the treatment of insomnia. It helps people with insomnia manage how they feel when they can’t sleep, and may increase the likelihood of good sleep hygiene.
Sleeping somewhere that is quiet, dark, private, cool and comfortable is a good way to sleep well at night. For people struggling to sleep, experts recommend getting exercise in the day and doing something relaxing before bed (no screens – for example a book, a bath or both). It’s a good idea to break habits such as drinking alcohol or caffeine in the afternoon or evening, eating dinner late, and exercising in the evening. For those struggling to get to sleep, avoiding naps and lie-ins can make it easier to fall asleep at a regular time every night.