• Openness, support, and community: model and ADHD coach Leanne Maskell shares her tips for good mental health living with ADHD

  • We have therapists who specialise in supporting people with ADHD – find them here

ADHD is not a mental illness, but it can definitely be a contributing factor. 

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition linked with a 30% delay in executive functioning skills, including emotional regulation and impulsivity. This may be a factor in the 5x higher risk of suicide linked with ADHD – without support, it can be very dangerous to live with.  

As it’s only been diagnosable in UK adults since 2008, it’s very common for people to discover they have been living with ADHD in later life, especially after experiencing burnout. A lifetime of masking our symptoms and putting in 150% effort to be ‘normal’ can build up over time to result in mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. 

This may be worsened by the inaccessibility of support, with years long NHS waiting lists for assessments and global medication shortages, and stigma in our society calling ADHD a ‘trend’, when people are struggling. 

Children with ADHD are said to receive 20,000 more negative comments than their non-ADHD peers by the age of 12, which can contribute to low self-esteem and the experience of Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD). Coined by Dr Dodson, this is intense emotional pain, triggered by real or perceived rejection, which lasts for a limited period of time.

These factors can contribute to an overall vulnerability to exploitation by others, and addictive substances including drugs and alcohol, which can all result in mental health challenges. ADHD is also commonly linked with disordered eating, with girls with ADHD 4 times more likely to experience this than those without. 

As people with ADHD tend to be seeking stimulation, they may self-medicate with these behaviours, such as binge eating or making risky decisions, resulting in patterns of self-sabotage. 

Although we’re more likely to experience poor mental health, this isn’t all bad news – once we understand the underlying reasons behind this, then we can do something about it. For example, the anti-anxiety medication I took prior to finding out I had ADHD made things much worse, but the ADHD medication helps significantly with my overall mental health. Untangling these conditions can be complicated, but worth it. 

Here’s how to combat the mental health impact of ADHD:

1. Name it to tame it

Learning about ADHD and how it can manifest, such as RSD, can enable us to ‘name it to tame it’. This can also give us a framework for other challenges we may experience, such as eating disorders or anxiety attacks, because we have an ‘ADHD lens’ to understand why these things may be more likely to happen in the first place. 

Becoming aware of our challenges enables us to take action, and to reduce the shame we may feel in struggling with our mental health. ADHD can disorder our lives, but things don’t have to stay that way!  

2. Be kind to yourself 

Living with ADHD can be exhausting, like having a radio station blasting 150 channels at us non-stop. If you can, try to tune into and challenge these thoughts, observing the impact calling yourself ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’ is having on you. 

Understanding ADHD can help us to reframe these beliefs and work through them – it’s not an excuse, but it can explain things. Being able to work with your brain as a friend, instead of against it as an enemy, can make a huge difference. 

Imagine if you used all the energy you spent on beating yourself up for the things you actually wanted to do – this is possible!

3. Find the right support 

Being neurodivergent means we may need tailored support. For example, having ADHD may make thought-based therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) feel difficult to engage with. Many people with ADHD also experience misdiagnosis throughout their life. 

However, you know yourself best. Trusting your intuition of whether support is helping or not is crucial, as you can keep trying different approaches until you find one that works for you. It can feel exhausting, but is so worth it when you find the right fit. This could apply in a range of scenarios, from medication to therapy or coaching – accessing ADHD-informed support can be extremely validating and helpful. 

If you’re in the UK, you can also apply for Access to Work, which can fund tailored support to help anyone with a health condition impacting them at work, including ADHD coaching. 

4. Find your community 

Having ADHD can feel very lonely, but you are not alone. Whether you have a formal diagnosis or not, finding people whose experiences resonate with yours can be incredibly empowering and supportive, especially for those of us who have felt like we don’t fit in throughout our lives. 

Joining a group coaching course or real life meet up can be a great way to strengthen these relationships – connections are key to happiness. 

5. Open up to others    

Sharing your challenges with one or two people you trust can be extremely helpful. Although the people in your life may not necessarily have the same experiences, they do care for you, and their support can make a world of difference.

People with ADHD can find it very difficult to ask for help, as we can struggle with self-awareness and understanding what we need, but very often, we just need someone to be there for us. Having a strong support network of people who care about you is key to your overall wellbeing, who can help you with the ‘basics’ like exercising, eating, and going outside that can feel so difficult when we’re struggling.

If you’re experiencing mental health challenges right now, please remember that you’re not alone, and things will get better. There is nothing to ‘fix’, because you’re not broken, but you deserve to feel happy, exactly as you are. 

Leanne Maskell is an ADHD Coach, Director of ADHD Works and author of ADHD Works at Work and ADHD an A-Z .

Watch our interview with Leanne Maskell and psychotherapist Bethany Ashley-Smith

Further reading

What does a neurodiversity-inclusive organisation really look like?

How I adapt therapy for clients with ADHD

My autism and ADHD diagnosis helped me forgive myself for being different

What's the relationship between neurodivergence and trauma?