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How ADHD affects mental health, as Ben Fogle opens up about diagnosis

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27: Ben Fogle during the BAFTA TV Preview of
Ben Fogle says his recent ADHD diagnosis came after a 'mental health storm'. (Getty Images)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is believed to affect around 1.8 million people in the UK - including TV presenter Ben Fogle.

The New Lives in the Wild star, 50, shared a personal post on his Instagram account and said he had recently been diagnosed with ADHD, following a "mental health storm".

He began his post by writing: "I hate labels. I always have the idea that a single word defines us is too binary and lacks the nuances that distinguish us.

"We are more than a sweeping binary word… The same can be said of our unique neurological differences," Fogle continued.

"I have recently been diagnosed with ADHD… I admit to my own cynicism but the reality is that I have changed neurologically.

"A recent mental health storm was the catalyst for my diagnosis. I feel different and have done for some time. Some aspects of life had become more of a struggle, but with a diagnosis comes understanding and reason."

Fogle’s experience highlights how people with ADHD may struggle more with their mental health than those who are neurotypical. It also comes as the NHS said last week that there has been a shortage in ADHD medications due to "excessive increases in demand".

However, ADHD Foundation, a neurodiversity charity, said the NHS’s statement "implies overuse" of ADHD medications, stressing that "this is not the reality".

"1.8 million UK citizens (at least) live with ADHD. Only 220,000 use medication (8 million use anti-depressants," the charity said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "ADHD is still significantly under-diagnosed."

The link between ADHD and mental health

According to ADHD Aware, having the disorder is a risk factor for developing mental health conditions, but ADHD is also often misdiagnosed as anxiety or depression.

"The rate of misdiagnosis is so high that in the UK, it is thought that the average person with ADHD will experience three to four misdiagnoses before they are diagnosed with ADHD," the charity said on its website.

ADHD can have a significant impact on mental health, Leanne Maskell, ADHD coach and director of ADHD Works, explains to Yahoo UK.

"As ADHD is linked with a 30% developmental delay in executive functioning skills such as emotional regulation and motivation, people may experience symptoms developing into mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety," Maskell, who has ADHD herself, says.

Two women relaxing at home, one texting on phone, young woman sitting beside her looking and waiting
People with ADHD can find it difficult to focus and pay attention, which can affect mental health. (Getty Images)

"Further to this, being neurodivergent and thinking ‘differently’ in a ‘neurotypical’ world means challenges meeting ’normal’ standards such as maintaining friendships and meeting targets at work.

"This can result in a significant impact on our mental health, as we struggle to ‘do what we know’. Children with ADHD are said to receive 20,000 more negative comments than their peers by age 12, which has a lasting effect into adulthood."

She also points towards the high risk of misdiagnoses, as well as lengthy waiting lists for assessments that can take up to 10 years. These make it very difficult to access support for ADHD and "can have a serious impact on our mental health, manifesting as conditions such as depression".

Which ADHD symptoms affect mental health the most?

According to ADHD Aware, the condition is characterised by some key traits, including:

  • Inattention: Easily distracted, poor concentration skills, difficulty organising themselves

  • Impulsivity: Impatient, risk-taking, disproportionately emotional responses

  • Hyperactivity: Overly energetic, talkative, excessive fidgeting, difficulty staying on task

Maskell explains that hyperactivity and impulsivity can make people with ADHD “more vulnerable to exploitation and risk-taking behaviour, such as alcohol and drugs”, which can impact mental health.

"As we may struggle to think the consequences of our actions through, this can result in making decisions we may later regret, such as quitting a job," she says.

She also explains that people with ADHD experience challenges in emotional regulation, which can significantly affect mental health.

"Experiencing extreme emotional pain combined with ADHD symptoms of impulsivity can be extremely dangerous, as seen by a five times higher risk of suicide for people with ADHD."

Watch: Anne-Marie uses Lego to cope with ADHD symptoms

Psychologist Dr Alison McClymont adds that people with ADHD face stigma from others "due to their communication style being viewed as abrupt or uncontrolled".

"This early experience of being perceived negatively for being too ‘abrupt’ can affect later self-confidence," she tells Yahoo UK.

They may also be seen as "unempathetic" or "disinterested" in others if they jump from topic to topic too quickly, and unintentionally offend others.

"The above social challenges mean that ADHD sufferers are more likely to suffer with anxiety-related disorders or depressive disorders than neurotypical people," Dr McClymon says. "This can also translate into higher co-morbidity rates of eating disorders and self harm, than non-ADHD populations."

How can people with ADHD cope with mental health issues?

In order to help people with ADHD deal with their mental health and take care of it, it’s important that they have strong support networks and access to help.

Maskell says therapy can be very helpful for people with ADHD to learn how to process emotions and challenging experiences. ADHD coaching can also help by offering tailored support and strategies, she adds.

Young man in therapy. A young man sit on a sofa in a therapist office against female counselor
Therapy can be helpful for people with ADHD. (Getty Images)

“Learning about the mental health challenges associated with ADHD can also be very helpful, as we can ‘name it to tame it’. Being able to understand our struggles empowers us to take responsibility for this and ask for help, including from family and friends.”

Dr MyClymont adds that early diagnosis and treatment for ADHD is key to help people “understand their world” and “work out ways to thrive in a neurotypical world”.

“It is imperative that ADHD sufferers take mental health breaks, watch how much stimulus they are getting and take care not to get overwhelmed. Medication can be very helpful but lifestyle adjustments such as exercise and sleep are crucial for managing ADHD.”

Adults in the UK can apply for Access to Work to get support if you have a disability or health condition. If you need someone to talk to, you can also call Samaritans any time, day or night on 116 123.

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