Sign up today and get 50% off your first session!

Is ADHD a Mental Illness? What To Know

June 10, 2024
Written By: Hero Journey Club

ADHD affects millions of people in the U.S. alone. While it’s often diagnosed in young people, an adult diagnosis isn’t out of the ordinary, either. If you think you might have ADHD or just got diagnosed by a mental health professional, you probably have some questions. One FAQ that we hear about ADHD is: Is it a mental illness? 

We’re here to help you understand how to relate to your ADHD and whether to label it a mental health condition. Let’s discuss.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It’s a neurodevelopmental condition with symptoms like difficulty focusing, restlessness, distractibility, and even irritability. ADHD often develops during childhood, but it isn’t always diagnosed immediately. In addition, this condition often gets misidentified as anxiety, depression, or a conduct disorder, making an inaccurate diagnosis extremely common. 

There are two primary subtypes of ADHD: Inattentive ADHD and hyperactive ADHD. We’ve provided a quick outline of both subtypes below.

Inattentive Type

Inattentive ADHD manifests more in the form of trouble focusing and listening than in constant restlessness. Many kids and adolescents who deal with inattentive ADHD are either misdiagnosed or never get the help they need, as the symptoms can be harder to spot than symptoms of hyperactive ADHD.

Hyperactive Type

On the other hand, hyperactive ADHD is associated with symptoms like fidgeting, excessive talking, and bursts of extreme energy. People with this ADHD subtype may also deal with more mood swings and irritability. This subtype of ADHD is often diagnosed at a young age, as the symptoms are often more explicit to parents, teachers, and other adults in a child’s support system.

Is ADHD Considered a Mental Illness?

In the past, ADHD was viewed as a mental health condition. However, many healthcare professionals now classify ADHD as a neurodevelopmental condition. That means that ADHD doesn’t imply that you have “mental health problems.” In addition, the general consensus on ADHD is that it will affect a person’s daily life on some level forever. 

On the other hand, mental health professionals believe that it’s possible to make a full recovery from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. That’s not exactly the case for ADHD. That doesn’t mean your ADHD symptoms should make you feel crippled or stuck. With the right support, these symptoms are more than manageable — you can thrive with an ADHD diagnosis.

What Are the Symptoms Associated With ADHD?

The symptoms of ADHD include impulsivity, trouble focusing, restlessness, constantly fidgeting, talking excessively, impatience, and, sometimes, irritability. In addition, people with ADHD often struggle with time management and motivation, which can make it tough to stay on top of responsibilities like work, school, and chores. 

It’s worth mentioning that a diagnosis of ADHD doesn’t mean that you experience all of the symptoms listed above every day. Everyone’s experience with ADHD is unique — therapy, medication, and other measures can make many of these symptoms easier to manage.

How Does ADHD vs. Mental Disorders Impact Your Lifestyle? 

ADHD can have a big impact on your life, and it isn’t always easy to deal with the symptoms. In fact, dealing with ADHD might be one of the biggest challenges you face. Trouble focusing, listening, sitting still, and managing your priorities and goals can sometimes leave you feeling stuck. However, a mental disorder is likely to affect your life on a deeper level than ADHD. 

For example, clinical depression or bipolar disorder can be crippling in a way that ADHD often isn’t. Likewise, generalized anxiety disorder or OCD can cause a level of unease and fear that isn’t associated with ADHD. Mental health conditions like these are treatable, but they often cause serious challenges and require plenty of ongoing support.

Are There Upsides to ADHD?

There are actually substantial benefits to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. These are sometimes referred to as "superpowers" as they are unique skills and perspectives that neurotypical individuals might not possess or understand. 

For instance, the ability to hyperfocus can lead to high productivity and exceptional accomplishments. ADHD often gives individuals an edge in physical activities due to high energy, a trait seen among numerous elite athletes.

People with ADHD have various potential benefits:

  • Hyperfocus: People with ADHD can often tune out distractions completely and concentrate fully on a task they find interesting. This can make their work more efficient and improve the quality of the results.
  • Resilience: Many people with ADHD can become highly resilient due to the challenges they face and overcome regularly. Building resilience through experiencing and overcoming adversity can contribute to a strong character.
  • Creativity: Individuals with ADHD are often very creative, particularly when given a goal-oriented task. They can be great problem solvers with the ability to come up with novel solutions due to their unique perspectives.
  • Conversational Skills and Empathy: People with ADHD are often excellent in conversations and have higher levels of social intelligence, humor, and ability to recognize feelings (empathy).
  • Spontaneity and Courage: Their impulsive nature can make people with ADHD spontaneous, creating fun, unplanned moments that create lasting memories. Their spontaneity and tendency to seek thrill and adventure can cultivate courage.
  • High Energy: The hyperactivity associated with ADHD can translate to physical activities, making people with ADHD excellent athletes with an abundance of energy.

Is ADHD Linked to Mental Illness?

Is ADHD a risk factor for mental health conditions? It’s an important question to answer if you, a friend, or a family member has just received an ADHD diagnosis. Let’s take a look at what the research says:

Comorbidity Rate With Anxiety

Research tells us that about 25 percent of people with an ADHD diagnosis have an anxiety disorder as well. Someone with a dual diagnosis like this would benefit from both ADHD treatment and anxiety treatment, both of which can come in the form of therapy, medication, and other supportive services.

Comorbidity Rate With Depression

There’s also extensive research linking depression and ADHD. In fact, one study indicated that 18.6 percent of adults with ADHD have major depression compared to 7.8 percent of adults without ADHD. Likewise, 19.4 percent of adult ADHD cases coexist with persistent depressive disorder.

Other Mental Disorders

Current research indicates that as many as 80 percent of people with an ADHD diagnosis have at least one coexisting psychiatric disorder in the DSM-5 (a comprehensive list of mental health conditions). Some of the most common are anxiety and depression, along with eating disorders and learning disabilities like dyslexia.

Why It’s Important To Protect Your Mental Health With ADHD

ADHD can disrupt your life in big ways, making it hard to stay organized and motivated. The symptoms can also hurt your confidence and self-esteem, which is why taking care of your mind is such a key aspect of managing your ADHD. 

Have grace for yourself if you make careless mistakes — everyone does it. Forgive yourself if you miss an appointment — it’s part of life. But, most of all, take any steps you can take to stay connected with others, find professional support, and have a healthy relationship with yourself. Your mental health is a top priority!

How Can I Manage ADHD Symptoms?

ADHD symptoms can be frustrating, but they’re manageable with the right tools and support. Medication, therapy, and support groups can all help you deal with the symptoms and feel empowered, fulfilled, and confident.

Medication

Sometimes, medication is a key part of treating ADHD. While many of the medicines that providers prescribe for ADHD have some side effects, they’re typically very manageable with some planning and support. If you find that your medication makes your symptoms worse or causes serious side effects, make sure to call your psychiatry office for help.

Psychotherapy and Support

Dealing with ADHD on your own can feel impossible. That’s where therapy and professional support come in. Getting help from clinicians in your area or scheduling a virtual visit can help you take the next steps to managing your ADHD symptoms and thriving again. 

Find the Right Support for You With Therapist-Led Therapeutic Gaming

One of the best ways to reach your ADHD management goals is within a group. Hero Journey Club pairs you up with like-minded folks who care about the same things you care about and share your struggles. 

Led by a professional therapist, you’ll connect with your group weekly in the virtual world of a game you love. For the next 80 minutes, you’ll play, build relationships, and make progress towards your goals. Then, you’ll have ongoing support throughout the week. 

What Is the Research Behind Hero Journey Club?

Our work is backed up by more than 50 peer-reviewed scientific articles that support the positive impact of games and gaming-centered communities on health. We wholeheartedly believe that games like Animal Crossing, Minecraft, and Stardew Valley are the perfect places for growth and healing to happen, and we integrate these games with evidence-based practices to help our members make real progress in life.

The Results Driving Hero Journey Club

Since starting Hero Journey Club, we’ve seen our members build incredible relationships, find the support they need, and come away from each session feeling better than before. Here’s what members have told us about their time with HJC:

  • 96 percent of our members report feeling better after a session
  • 94 percent tell us they’ve made some of the deepest connections in their lives through HJC
  • 70 percent of members showed measurable improvement based on clinical measures after joining

Hero Journey Club exists to help you find a safe place to become a better version of yourself. The games are just a means to that end, but they’re a powerful part of what makes HJC so unique. 

It’s important to note that HJC is not considered a replacement for therapy but rather a complement to traditional therapy.

The Bottom Line

ADHD isn’t a mental illness, but it can be tough to deal with — especially if you feel alone. The good news is that you’re not alone. Help and support are available in many forms, including online support groups through Hero Journey Club. Our members meet weekly with professional therapists within games like Stardew Valley, Final Fantasy, and Minecraft, encouraging each other, learning new skills, and more. 

Sign up for HJC today to begin your first session.

Sources:

Types of ADHD in Adults: Understanding the Differences | ADDA

ADHD and Anxiety Disorder Comorbidity in Children and Adults: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Challenges | Current Psychiatry Reports

What are the benefits of ADHD? | Medical News 

Treating ADHD in Adults With Comorbid Mood Disorders: What the Evidence Shows | Medscape

The history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder | PMC