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The purpose of this guide is to provide an overview of ADHD for those working with young people in the community.
ADHD and mental health
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects behaviour and concentration. It’s not a mental illness or learning disability, but having ADHD may mean that a young person faces extra challenges that make them vulnerable to low self-esteem, anxiety or depression.
Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for ADHD
Everyone is individual and not everyone will be affected by ADHD in the same way. Age and gender, for example, can affect how someone with ADHD behaves. This can make it harder to spot signs of ADHD, particularly in girls, who are more likely to be undiagnosed or wrongly diagnosed with other conditions.
Younger children may typically display some of these traits – or similar behaviours can follow a traumatic experience – but this doesn’t necessarily mean the young person has ADHD. Similarly, symptoms usually improve with age, but without a diagnosis some young people and young adults may struggle without support.
A child or young person with ADHD may:
- be easily distracted and find it difficult to start or finish tasks
- find it difficult to concentrate
- often become restless or fidgety
- be very talkative, often interrupting or blurting things out
- be impulsive e.g. act before considering the consequences or be prone to taking risks
- get easily angry or frustrated and struggle to deal with emotions
- find making or maintaining friendships difficult
- be disorganised, for instance often losing things or being late
- lack an awareness of time
Although symptoms often start young, a diagnosis may be made later in childhood, adolescence or adulthood. A young person is diagnosed through an ADHD assessment, usually with CAMHS if they are under 18 years old, or another trained professional. The referral for an assessment comes from a young person’s GP, or self-referral in England.
There are other ways of treating ADHD that some people with the condition find helpful, including changes to diet. However, the NHS recommend these should not be attempted without medical advice.
How to support the mental health of a young person with ADHD or possible ADHD
If you work with a young person with ADHD, it's important to offer continued support as they learn to manage their condition. This could include:
- encouraging them with routines or life-style changes they have put in place
- helping them talk to their parents/carers about any changes as a result of their ADHD diagnosis or any worries they have about treatment and/or support they may like
- helping them access local ADHD support groups
Take a look at our tips below on how best to offer continued support.
Be aware of the common traits and behaviours of ADHD.
Build trust in a way the young person finds helpful. This could be through an activity rather than sitting and talking if they find that easier.
Consider the challenges
Be aware that the extra challenges a young person faces due to ADHD can make them more vulnerable to low self-esteem, anxiety or depression. Keep an eye out for changes in behaviour.
Show you are listening to what a young person is sharing with you, repeat back what you have heard to check your understanding and keep your body language open. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and emotions.
Share resources or information
Share resources or information about support that you think they may find helpful. For example, this mood battery resource was initially developed by a professional with ADHD to help manage her feelings throughout the day. However, please be mindful of misinformation online and on social media, and check all sources of advice.
Talk about seeking professional help
Getting professional support can help people with ADHD to better manage their symptoms. Talk to young people about exploring professional help from their GP, a mental health professional, or a specialist organisation.
Tips from our Activists
Our Activists share their advice for young people with ADHD to help them manage their mental health.
Create a routine for the day.
Set clear boundaries in your personal, school or professional life.
Reflect on the day and what you achieved – this can be as small as getting to school/work or getting through a lesson.
Find the best ways for you to cope in social situations.
Look into local support groups.
Recognise potential triggers that might make your symptoms worse; these will be unique to each person but could include being over-stimulated.
More information and advice
Where to get more help
You can find more information and support for a young person with ADHD through these organisations.
Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.
Please be aware that this form isn’t a mental health support service. If you or a young person you work with is in crisis right now and wants to talk to someone urgently, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.