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ADHD and mental health

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’. It is a type of condition known as a neurodevelopmental condition.

Neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD affect the way your brain develops and works. This can impact your behaviour and the way you experience the world around you.

Around one in 20 young people have ADHD. It is not a mental health condition or a learning disability. But, some people with ADHD might experience mental health conditions as well, such as an anxiety disorder.

If you have ADHD, your brain might work differently to other people’s. You may struggle with ‘executive functioning’ - these are the tasks we do that help us to manage everyday situations, such as getting organised or setting priorities. If you have ADHD, the way your brain controls your concentration, activity levels and impulses is a bit different, so you may find these types of tasks more challenging. This is a form of neurodiversity (a term used to describe the fact that everyone’s brain works differently).

Symptoms tend to start very early in life, before the age of six. It is common for children with ADHD to get a diagnosis at this age, but you can be diagnosed at any stage in your life. In fact, you might not realise you have ADHD until you’re much older or an adult. Symptoms for ADHD can be different for everyone. They can depend on your age, sex, gender identity and whether you have any other neurodevelopmental conditions.

ADHD can also be genetic so can run in families, but the cause is mostly unknown.

A group of young people at a school desk talking to each other with a world map on background.
I have ADHD and other people will have it too, so don't think you’re alone because you are not. I know it’s hard but we can all get through it if we stay strong, be brave and overcome our worries and fears.

How can ADHD affect me?

The symptoms of ADHD are often broken down into three types:

  • Inattentiveness and distractibility

    Having trouble focussing.

  • Hyperactivity and impulsivity

    Feeling extremely active and not thinking before you do or say things.

  • A combination

    A combination of both of the above types of ADHD

However, these behaviour types can look different for different people.

  • feeling restless or fidgety, especially in calm or quiet surroundings (e.g. struggling to sit still in class)
  • talking a lot and interrupting others
  • having a short attention span or difficulty paying attention to others
  • finding it difficult to wait your turn
  • becoming easily distracted or having difficulty concentrating, like finding it hard to watch a film at the cinema
  • appearing unable to listen, to carry out instructions or having a need to constantly change activity or task
  • having difficulty making or keeping friends
  • having difficulty organising tasks, being forgetful or missing important appointments
  • feeling very sensitive or overly emotional
  • having little or no sense of danger
  • making careless mistakes or saying or doing things without thinking

If you experience any of these symptoms it doesn’t mean you definitely have ADHD. But if any of them are affecting your everyday life, you should talk to your GP or a trusted adult for advice.

For a long time I thought I couldn’t have ADHD because I didn’t relate to the hyperactivity.
Play Video: Coco | A day in the life of a Neurodivergent person Coco | A day in the life of a Neurodivergent person

A day in the life of a neurodivergent person

Meet Coco, a neurodivergent content creator and advocate for neurodivergent individuals. 

Video description: Coco is a Black woman wearing a cream coloured beanie hat and black glasses. The video starts with Coco getting into a car and then doing some shopping in a supermarket and then messaging with friends while sitting down in a living room. The video ends with Coco walking through a quiet green space.

90 second watch

ADHD in women

For a long time, it was thought that women and girls were much less likely to have ADHD than boys and men. This is not true, however women and girls might experience ADHD differently to boys and men.

For example, female-identifying people might be more likely to experience symptoms such as:

  • struggling to relax or unwind
  • feeling overwhelmed when making decisions
  • your mind often drifting when other people are talking
  • feeling overwhelmed in social situations

There’s not a lot of research around how ADHD looks in people who don’t identify as male or female. But whatever your experience, it’s valid. If you need support with your gender identity and mental health, our advice guide can help.

Guide to gender identity and mental health
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What to do if you think you might have ADHD

If you think you might have ADHD, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to go through it alone and there is help available.

Talk to your GP

Tell your GP about your symptoms. We know it can be challenging to talk to your GP, but they are there to help. They can offer you support, refer you to a specialist for an ADHD assessment, or refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) if you need any mental health support before or after your assessment.

How to speak to your GP

ADHD assessment

To find out if you have ADHD you’ll need to talk to an expert, like a specialist child or adult psychiatrist.

They’ll ask you some questions and you will fill in some questionnaires about how you’re feeling and the symptoms you’ve experienced. This is called an assessment. They will also ask your permission to speak to your parents and teachers as part of the assessment.

Your family might not be supportive of you being assessed but it’s important for you to get the right support for you.

There might be other reasons for your ADHD symptoms such as anxiety or depression. The ADHD specialist will be able to tell you more following your assessment.

Amelia's story: My ADHD diagnoses

Hear from Amelia about her journey to getting an ADHD diagnoses.

Video description: Amelia is a Black young woman, and she’s talking to the camera. She has dark hair and is wearing a grey jumper.

90 second watch

Advice on how to manage your ADHD

There are many things you can do to help manage your ADHD. Below are some ideas based on what young people have told us helps them.

  • Medication

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

  • Therapy

    Through therapy, you can learn to understand your behaviours and find practical ways to better manage and cope with everyday situations.

  • Counselling

    It can really help to talk together with your family and a counsellor about how to deal with things in your daily life.

  • Getting support in education

    We know it can be tricky, but try being as open as possible with a trusted adult, like your teacher, about the impact ADHD has on you. This will help you to get the right support. Your school can help you to organise your day, make sure you have handouts to look at, or give you additional time during exams.

  • Exercise

    Exercising regularly can help everyone to improve their mood. It can also help you to get rid of any built-up energy and help you to focus better.

  • Talk to someone you trust

    It can help to tell friends that you trust about your ADHD so they can support you. If you know someone with ADHD, it might be helpful to talk about their experiences and come up with coping strategies together.

  • Take breaks

    If you find it hard to concentrate for a long time, make sure to take regular breaks. For example, if you’re studying for a test, divide your time into manageable chunks with plenty of breaks so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Three young people sitting together in a park.
People with ADHD make massive changes and adjustments for the comfort of others every day. I am constantly doing things which are detrimental to my wellbeing and are totally out of my comfort zone. All we ask is that you try to meet us part of the way.

ADHD and your mental health

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ADHD can leave you feeling out of control and overwhelmed.

People might not understand what you’re going through and could think you are acting out or being difficult. Or they might criticise and punish you unnecessarily. This can make you feel isolated and depressed, or it can lead to feelings of low self-esteem. This may be especially true if you’re comparing yourself to your friends who might behave differently to you.

However, having ADHD can also mean that you’re really passionate about lots of things. Our brains all work differently and there is no “right way” to be – recognising this is what neurodiversity is all about. If you’re struggling with your mental health, these can be positive things to focus on.

It can be really helpful to talk to your friends, family and teachers about how you feel. Talking is a great way for others to understand more about you so they can support you. Let them know what you do and don't find helpful so that they can do their best to help.

  • Take time out and finding ways to relax, or taking regular breaks.
  • Let teachers/lecturers know about your ADHD so you can come up with helpful strategies together.
  • Register with the disabilities services at university so you can get the right support in lectures and exams as well as with assignments.
  • Try to do regular exercise and eat healthily.
  • Make notes or keep lists to stay on top of things.
  • 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.
  • Remove yourself from any stressful situations.
  • Find the best ways for you to cope in social situations.
  • Look at 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.
A group of two young people and an adult sitting on the grass in the park and laughing together.
Medication allows me to live the life I never dreamt would be possible. When you’re depressed, you can’t imagine life ever getting better, but it can. Getting the right diagnosis has completely changed my life. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have found out I have ADHD.

ADHD and other mental health conditions or difficulties

  • Although ADHD is not a mental health condition, evidence suggests that you might be more likely to develop a mental health condition if you have ADHD. For example, you might struggle with anxiety or depression.

    Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is another condition linked to ADHD. This is when you show a lot of anger or uncooperative behaviour towards people in charge, such as your teachers or your parents. You may be diagnosed with this if your behaviour is disruptive.

    ADHD can also lead to sleep problems, meaning you feel tired, run down and struggle to concentrate. It can help to cut down on caffeine or other stimulants after 4pm as this can also impact your sleeping patterns.

Common questions about ADHD

ADHD is something that you’re born with so you won’t ‘grow out of it’. However, lots of people do say that their symptoms get a bit better as they get older. Learning how to cope with ADHD and finding what works for you can help make your symptoms easier. The tips shared above can help you with this.

The below medicines are most frequently prescribed to people with ADHD. These are not a "cure", but can help many people to manage some of the symptoms. The medication must be prescribed and checked by a doctor. Click each medication to find out more about what it does and potential side effects.

There are lots of support groups across the UK for children, young people and their families to get help and advice around coping with ADHD. Visit ADHDUK for more information on the groups in your area.

It is very comforting and validating to see other people have similar struggles. We talk a lot about the way things are going and give each other tips or help around things.

Get help now

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

  • ADHD and You

    Contains information and resources to help young people living with ADHD.


    Information and resources on subjects including diagnosis, medication, education and employment, as well as online support groups.

  • Youth Access

    Provides information about local counselling and advice services for young people aged 11-25.

    Put in your location and what you need help with into their 'Find help' search, and see what services are available in your area.

  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
  • Student Minds

    Supports students to look after their mental health by providing information and advice.

    They also provide details about local services offered by universities and information on how you can access support group programmes.

    You can call or email for more information (this is not a helpline).

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.

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