Adults with ADD often suffer from “co-morbidities” or co-existing mental health conditions as well as learning and language problems. These co-morbid conditions can make an accurate ADD diagnosis very challenging, as psychiatric disorder symptoms may overlap with symptoms of adult ADD.
Since adults with ADD may have co-morbid psychiatric conditions, family medicine practitioners Dr. Robert E. Post and Stuart L. Kurlansik, PhD note that an accurate ADD diagnosis depends on understanding when different symptoms started to appear. For example, difficulty concentrating that begins after depression is not likely to be caused by ADD, but depression that begins after significant difficulty concentrating is likely to be co-morbid depression and ADD.
Common co-morbid mental health conditions among adults with ADD include:
As the Mayo Clinic explains, if you have a mood disorder, “your general emotional state or mood is distorted or inconsistent with your circumstances.” Mood disorders include:
- Depression: While everyone occasionally experiences sadness, these feelings usually pass within a few days. Depression, however, “interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you.” Most people who experience depression–even severe depression–can get better with treatment.
- Bipolar disorder: Also called manic-depressive illness, this mood disorder is not as common as forms of depression. Bipolar disorder is characterized by “cycling mood changes,” from extreme highs to extreme lows.
“Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome…you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.”
–Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison
Although occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, people with anxiety disorders frequently have “intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.” Anxiety disorders often involve “repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).” Signs and symptoms may include:
- Persistent worrying about small or large concerns that is out of proportion to the event
- Inability to relax, feeling on edge
- Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
- Difficulty making decisions because you are afraid of making a wrong decision
- Physical signs and symptoms including difficulty sleeping, tiredness, irritability, muscle tension/aches, sweating, nausea, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.
“Generally speaking, the anxiety will pass, which is easy for me to say when I’m not in the middle of an anxiety attack. When you’re in the throes of one, it’s hard to feel anything other than utter misery and terror.”
–Scott Stossel, author
A learning disorder is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to acquire and use skills such as reading and calculating. The Mayo Clinic explains that learning disorders do not reflect intelligence, but they do affect a person’s ability to complete a task or use certain skills. The most common learning disorders include:
- Dyslexia: Characterized by difficulty reading, spelling and recalling known words, dyslexia often runs in families. Symptoms in adults are similar to those in children: difficulty reading, memorizing, managing time, summarizing a story, and/or learning another language.
- Dyscalculia: Dyscalculia is related to mathematical concepts, and is characterized by “difficulty solving even simple math problems or sequencing information or events.”
- Nonverbal learning disability: This disorder is characterized by “difficulty with nonverbal cues, such as coordination and body language.”