Mental health crisis among teenage girls with ADHD

October 7, 2022

Mood swings. Sleep disorders. Deteriorated relationships. Deteriorating grades. Complete lack of interest in recreational activities. These are among the troubling behaviors observed by more than half of caregivers since the start of the pandemic, according to a new ADD a study on the mental health of youth with ADHD.

Our 1,187 survey responses echo the US Surgeon General’s reports with one important caveat: The mental health crisis plaguing today’s youth appears to be even more severe for adolescents with ADHD.

The mother of a 14-year-old from Michigan put it this way: “My daughter has developed social anxiety and sometimes has trouble going to school or going to stores where there may be other teenagers. She is overly obsessed with her appearance, so much so that she covers our mirrors. She went from an honor student to D’s and Es.

[ADDitude Special Project: Mental Health Out Loud]

Many high school students, as we now know, were not doing well before the pandemic: One in three reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness between 2009 and 2019, according to US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. And one in five children ages 3 to 17 reportedly had a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder during that time period.

But in the past two to three years, mental health challenges have become even more troubling for high school students with ADHD, according to caregivers who responded to ADD study: A staggering 67% of teenagers have already been diagnosed with anxiety and 46% with depression. Among children ages 3 to 17 with ADHD, the study also found above-average rates of oppositional defiant disorder (11%), sleep disorders (6.75%), and eating disorders (5.32%), not to mention learning differences that affect more than one in five students with ADHD.

The effect of social media

Fewer than 6% of parents surveyed say their teen with ADHD has “very good” mental health today. On a 4-point scale, the mean mental health score of this group was 2.27.

The most troubling signs of a mental health crisis revealed by the survey data involved adolescents with ADHD using social media. The anxiety rate among this group was a startling 75 percent, and the depression rate was 54 percent, according to the study. More than 14% had a sleep disorder and nearly 12% reported an eating disorder — more than three times the national average for neurotypical women. While the study can’t demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship with social media use, it does reveal that this demographic has the most severe mental health challenges.

The most common and distressing emotions affecting all adolescents with ADHD today include anxiety (66%), irritability (60%), apathy (59%), withdrawal (47%), and anger or aggression (45%).

[Free Resource: Too Much Screen Time? How to Regulate Your Teen’s Devices]

Among adolescent girls with ADHD, the most common sources of anxiety were school (76%); COVID-19 (54%); finance (31%); gun violence in schools and social media use (28% each). Among non-cisgender ADHD teens, 38% reported anxiety about political violence.

“Sometimes my son goes through severe depression,” said a caregiver of a transgender adolescent with ADHD, anxiety and depression. “When that happens, the whole world goes dark for him and we just do what we can to get through it.”

If your child is experiencing troubling symptoms of anxiety, depression, or self-harm, call or text 9-8-8 to access mental health services in the United States.

ADHD and the mental health crisis: Next steps

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