Commonly Misdiagnosed ADHD Symptoms in Adults

Commonly Misdiagnosed ADHD Symptoms in Adults

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often misdiagnosed in adults because its symptoms of how it co-occurs with other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. This is a significant issue, as misdiagnosis can lead to inappropriate treatment and worsening of symptoms. In this blog, we will explore why ADHD is misdiagnosed in adults and the symptoms of common mental health conditions that overlap with ADHD.

In the UK, less than 20% of adults with ADHD receive the care and support needed to manage their symptoms. Why? Adult ADHD can go undetected because it looks quite different than it does in children. When left unaddressed, ADHD can make it challenging to concentrate, recall specifics, and manage impulses, akin to battling against a powerful current while swimming.  

One of the main reasons for the misdiagnosis of ADHD in adults is the lack of awareness and understanding of the disorder. When people think of ADHD, they think of a childhood disorder and are unaware that it can persist into adulthood.

Adults who have not received an ADHD diagnosis may ‘mask’ behaviours associated with their condition, where they intentionally hide or suppress symptoms. This person may experience periods of fatigue or burnout as a result of the additional energy it takes to mask their symptoms. 

The symptoms of ADHD can be divided into two categories:
  • Inattentive: includes difficulty focusing on tasks, forgetfulness, disorganisation, and difficulty following instructions.
  • Hyperactivity/impulsivity: includes restlessness, fidgeting, interrupting others, and impulsive behaviour. 


While these are both common in people with ADHD, they can also be present in other mental health conditions, making it difficult to differentiate between them.

Signs of ADHD that overlap with Depression

Depression, for example, is a common mental health condition that often co-occurs with ADHD. Symptoms of depression may be triggered by a person attempting to manage what are, in fact, undiagnosed ADHD symptoms, leading to fatigue, lack of motivation, and difficulty concentrating.

Signs of ADHD that overlap with Anxiety

Anxiety is another mental health condition that shares symptoms with ADHD. Anxiety can cause restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and a constant feeling of worry, which can be mistaken for ADHD symptoms.

Signs of ADHD that overlap with Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a condition that is also sometimes misdiagnosed as ADHD. Bipolar disorder can cause impulsivity, irritability, and distractibility, similar to ADHD symptoms. It is important to note that while these symptoms can be present in both ADHD and bipolar disorder, there are also significant differences between the two conditions.

How to get an ADHD diagnosis as an adult?

If you suspect that you may have ADHD, it is crucial to seek professional help from a mental health professional who is qualified in diagnosing ADHD. A qualified psychiatrist can thoroughly assess whether your symptoms are due to ADHD and/or a mental health condition. The ADHD assessment may include a clinical interview, rating scales, and other tests to evaluate your symptoms and rule out other conditions.

The next step once an ADHD diagnosis is reached

Treatment for ADHD typically involves medication and behavioural therapy. Stimulant medications are commonly prescribed to help improve focus and reduce hyperactivity. However, these medications are not appropriate for everyone, and a clinician will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for your individual needs.

Behavioural therapy can also be helpful for managing ADHD symptoms. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help individuals develop coping strategies to improve focus and reduce impulsive behaviour. CBT can help individuals with ADHD by teaching them specific skills to manage their symptoms, such as improving their organisational skills, enhancing their time management, and strengthening their problem-solving abilities. It can also help individuals develop strategies to cope with impulsivity, distractibility, and hyperactivity.

The important thing to remember is ADHD is treatable. However, the first step to living a happier, healthier life is receiving an accurate diagnosis. Talk to Onebright today if you think you may have a neurodiverse condition and want to book a formal assessment with one of our clinicians. 

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