Most Children With ADHD Face Mental Health Woes as Adults, Study Finds

New research has determined that ADHD, a developmental disorder most associated with childhood, is a problem for adults as well. A new study, the largest to date into the effects of ADHD over the long term, has found that a significant number of children with ADHD still suffer from it in adulthood. The authors of the study fear that we have trivialized ADHD and that, in reality, it is a chronic and serious medical condition that requires further study and more serious treatment and care. The repercussions of these new findings could be serious, and will hopefully lead to better care for those with ADHD.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a developmental and behavioral disorder that is most associated with childhood because it first presents at an early age. About 3 percent to 5 percent of school-aged children are diagnosed with ADHD and it is more common in boys than in girls. It seems to have a hereditary component, but the exact causes of the disorder are not completely understood. Imaging of children with ADHD and those without has shown that their brains are different. The disorder is thought to begin at some point during the development of the brain in early childhood.

The symptoms of ADHD are classified in three ways: inattention, impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity. More specifically, ADHD can manifest as being unable to focus, having difficulty following directions, getting easily distracted, being forgetful and unorganized, fidgeting, talking excessively, and interrupting others.

Diagnosis of ADHD is not always straightforward. It is often diagnosed incorrectly. Most experts agree that a child should display at least six separate symptoms before a diagnosis is made. Treatment can also be controversial. Some experts believe that medications for ADHD are overused and that behavioral and cognitive therapy should be used more often.

The Study

A recent study of ADHD was conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic and Boston Children’s Hospital. They found that nearly one- third of children with ADHD still have it at the age of 27. Previous estimates for this number are as low as 6 percent and were based on much smaller groups of participants. The new number is more accurate.

A closer look revealed 57 percent of children with ADHD had at least one other psychiatric disorder as adults, compared with 35 percent of control subjects who hadn’t had the disorder as children. Substance abuse disorder, antisocial personality disorder, hypomanic episodes (such as what might occur when someone has bipolar disorder), generalized anxiety and major depression were the most common disorders found among participants who had been diagnosed with ADHD as kids.

Another disturbing result of the study is that children with ADHD are five times more likely to commit suicide than those without the disorder. The death rate for adults with ADHD is still low, but the difference between suicides in the two groups of adults is significant. The research group saw seven deaths in their group of participants who had ADHD into adulthood. Of those, five died because of substance abuse or psychiatric problems.

Finally, a connection was also seen between ADHD, learning disabilities, and mental illness in childhood. More than half of the children with ADHD also had a learning disability and developed a mental illness while still in childhood.

The Repercussions

The results of the study should have several impacts on mental health care and diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in children. The researchers call upon the health care community to take ADHD more seriously. It is already dealt with very seriously in educational settings where the behaviors associated with the disorder cause disruptions. Teachers, administrators, parents, and social workers in schools make accommodations and adapt learning environments to help ADHD children. However, the treatment of the disorder as a real medical condition with links to psychiatric disorders and suicide needs improvement.

The researchers also hope to see better diagnosis for ADHD and the other diseases associated with it. They would like to see a full psychological evaluation follow a diagnosis of ADHD to help prevent any potential psychiatric disorders. Currently, most insurance plans will not cover this. The researchers compare the situation to other disorders, like diabetes. Children with diabetes are at risk for eye problems and kidney disorders and so they are evaluated for them in the name of prevention. This same type of preventative care needs to be taken with ADHD, but the health care community is not yet there.

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