High level of mental illness among women with ADHD

Jasminee Sahoye

adhdWomen with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) are much more likely to have a wide range of mental and physical health problems in comparison to women without it, according to a University of Toronto study.

ADHD is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning development.

“The prevalence of mental illness among women with ADHD was disturbingly high with 46 per cent having seriously considered suicide, 36 per cent  having generalized anxiety disorder, 31 per cent having major depressive disorder and 39 per cent having substance abuse problems at some point in their life,” reported Esme Fuller-Thomson, Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair at University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging.

She added that the rates are much higher than among women without ADHD, “ranging from more than four times the odds of suicidal thoughts and generalized anxiety disorders to more than twice the odds of major depressive disorder and substance abuse.”

Investigators examined a representative sample of 3,908 Canadian women aged 20 to 39 of whom 107 reported that they had been diagnosed with ADHD. Data was drawn from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health.

“We were surprised at the high levels of physical health problems that the women were experiencing,” said Danielle A. Lewis, co-author of the study and a recent MSW graduate of the University of Toronto.

“More than one in four (28 per cent) of these relatively young women said that physical pain prohibited some of their activities, which was much higher than the nine per cent of their peers without ADHD who had disabling pain. Insomnia was also more prevalent in the women with ADHD in comparison to those without ADHD (43 per cent  vs. 12 per cent) as was smoking (41 per cent  vs. 22 per cent),” stated Lewis.

“Unfortunately, our study does not provide insight into why women with ADHD are so vulnerable. It is possible that some of the mental health problems may be caused by and/or contributing to financial stress,” Fuller-Thomson suggested.

The study also found, one in three of the women with ADHD reported they had difficulty meeting basic expenses such as food, shelter and clothing due to their inadequate household income.     For women without ADHD, only 13 per cent had this shortfall.

“Many people think of ADHD as primarily a boys’ disorder which has little relevance for girls and women. Our findings suggest, to the contrary, that a large portion of women with ADHD are struggling with mental illness, physical health concerns and poverty,” said Fuller-Thomson.

And a related study by researchers at King’s College in the United Kingdom suggest that for some people, the disorder does not emerge until after childhood.

ADHD is marked by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity and is one of the most common behavioural disorders in children.

It is widely believed that adult ADHD is the continuation of the disorder from childhood.

However, researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College found that nearly 70 per cent of the young adults with ADHD in their study did not meet criteria for the disorder at any of the childhood assessments.

Adults with this ‘late-onset’ ADHD had high levels of symptoms, impairment and other mental health disorders.