A guide for young people ADHD and mental health

Do you struggle to concentrate sometimes? Or ever feel like you have too much energy – more than other people? Maybe you find it difficult to control your behaviour in some situations?

If that sounds like you, you might be experiencing symptoms of attention deficit hyperactive disorder – usually called ADHD. This condition can make it tricky for you to focus at school or work. If you think you have ADHD, you’re not alone and there’s plenty of support out there. Read on to learn more and find out how to get help.

What is ADHD?

A boy and a girl listening intently to their friend while sitting on a bench in a park.

ADHD is a condition where you have lots of energy and have difficulty concentrating. You might also find it hard to control what you say and do. For example, you might speak without thinking first, or find that you do things on impulse.

Symptoms usually start very early in life, before the age of six. We don't know exactly what causes ADHD but experts think it might run in families, or it could be to do with the way the chemicals in your brain work. But you might start to experience ADHD-like symptoms if you’ve had a difficult experience.

Another condition called attention deficit disorder (ADD) has similar symptoms to ADHD, but you don’t feel as hyperactive. For people with ADD, the main problem they have is difficulty concentrating.

The symptoms of ADHD

a boy lost in thoughts while sitting on the couch with friends sitting beside him talking to each other

Symptoms include:

  • feeling restless or fidgety
  • talking a lot and interrupting others
  • becoming easily distracted
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • saying or doing things without thinking

If you experience any of these symptoms above, it doesn’t mean you definitely have ADHD. But if any of them are affecting your everyday life, you should do something about it.

What to do if you think you might have ADHD

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If you think you might have ADHD, talk to someone you like and trust. This could be a teacher, a relative, a counsellor or one of your friends.

Talk to your GP. Tell them how you’re feeling and they can suggest ways to help. They may offer to refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

You don’t need to do a test to find out if you have ADHD. Instead, you’ll talk to an expert such as a psychiatrist or specialist paediatrician (young person’s doctor) to find out the best way to help.

How to speak to your GP

How to treat ADHD

There are various types of treatment that can help you deal with ADHD.

  • Medication

    Many young people tell us they find medication really helpful because it makes it easier for them to focus and concentrate.

  • Therapy

    Through therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or psychotherapy, you can learn practical ways to manage your behaviour and cope better with everyday situations.

  • Counselling

    Talk together with your family and a counsellor about how to deal with things in your daily life.

  • Educational support

    You can get specialist help to make your time at school easier to manage.

ADHD and your mental health

ADHD can leave you feeling out of control. People might not understand what you’re going through and could think you are acting out or being difficult, or criticise and punish you unnecessarily. This can make you feel isolated, depressed, or it can lead to feelings of low self-esteem.

It can really help to talk to your friends, family and teachers about how you feel and how they can support you. Let them know what you do and don't find helpful so that they can do their best to help.

Reaching out for help

Different things work for different people. You could try the following to see if they help:

  • Cut down on drugs and alcohol.
  • Limit screen time and sports in the evening.
  • Avoid taking stimulant medication (or caffeine) after 4pm.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

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Where to get help

If you're worried, stressed or struggling to cope you are not alone. Here are some services that can help you.