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  • Kim WD, Psych NP

How do I know if I have ADHD?

You’re feeling irritable. You can’t focus on anything long enough to finish it. Your brain jumps around between projects, never getting anything done. You impulsively buy things you don’t really need, you eat things you shouldn’t, and you are easily bored. You can’t get organized, and it’s affecting your job, school, and your home life. You feel like everyone is picking on you and needs to just back off. You feel guilty and frustrated.

Is this ADHD – or something else?

Could I feel like this because I’m anxious? ADHD and anxiety disorders have a number of overlapping symptoms. Both can cause you to feel restlessness and unable to sit still. Both can make you feel distracted – anxiety can be highly distracting because your brain keeps returning to the things that you are anxious about or obsessed with. Both can lead to excessive worry and trouble settling down enough to fall asleep. Does the following sound like you?

  • Feeling restless or on edge,

  • Having difficulty concentrating, focusing, or feeling as though your mind goes blank,

  • Irritable, short tempered, or snappish,

  • Being hyper-vigilant,

  • Feeling muscle tension, low energy, or fatigue,

  • Having difficulty falling or staying asleep, and

  • Your symptoms are causing you significant distress or dysfunction in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Children and adults with ADHD may experience forgetfulness, be unable to control emotions or reactions, and have trouble focusing or staying on task. In some cases, these symptoms can signal underlying anxiety. If your symptoms are being caused by an anxiety disorder, then your anxiety is worth diagnosing and treating appropriately.


Could I feel like this because I’m depressed? ADHD and depressive disorders may also have overlapping symptoms. Does the following sound like you?

  • Feeling that your ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions is impaired,

  • Tired, fatigued, or feeling low energy,

  • Experiencing decreased efficiency when you try to complete routine tasks,

  • Losing interest or pleasure in many activities,

  • Feeling worthless, or excessively or inappropriately guilty when things aren’t getting done,

  • Having difficulty falling or staying asleep, and

  • Your symptoms are causing you significant distress or dysfunction in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Children and adults with ADHD may experience sadness, guilt, irritability, low self-confidence and helplessness. In some cases, these symptoms can signal underlying depression. If your symptoms are being caused by a depressive disorder, then your depression is worth diagnosing and treating appropriately.

What other mental health issues could mimic the symptoms of ADHD?

When you work with a psychiatric provider, they will take a comprehensive history, obtain records from previous providers, arrange for specialized screening and testing, and more. While it takes time to do all of this, it is important to determine what is causing your symptoms in order to accurately and effectively treat them. Some of the other psychiatric, emotional, and mental health challenges that have symptoms that may overlap with ADHD include –

  • Anxiety disorders such as

  • OCD, panic disorder, PTSD/trauma, adjustment disorder

  • Depressive disorders such as

  • Grief, major depressive disorder, dysthymia

  • Bipolar spectrum disorder

  • Cognitive disorders such as

  • Learning disorders, autism spectrum disorder, dementia, developmental disorder

  • Substance use disorders

  • Behavioral disorders such as

  • Impulse control disorder, emotional/mood lability

  • Physical health disorders such as

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI), concussion, insomnia, chronic pain

  • Personality dysfunctions and disorders

You may even be struggling with more than one of these conditions – and each of your mental health concerns deserves appropriate attention. Without adequate treatment, the symptoms you are most concerned about may not improve. A thorough exam and an accurate diagnosis will help ensure that your quality of life and level of function are the best they can be.

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