July 6, 2021
An international team of researchers sets out to measure the association between ADHD symptoms and self-evaluations of happiness among adults in the general population of the U.K. A nationally representative sample of 7,274 adults was asked to rate their happiness on a three-point scale. They also used the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) Screener to assess ADHD symptom levels.
Higher ADHD symptom levels were found to be inversely associated with self-assessments of happiness. Adults with the lowest ADHD symptoms (0-9 on theaters) were roughly twice as likely to report being happy as those scoring10-13, five times as happy as those scoring 14-17, and ten times as happy as those with the highest ADHD symptom scores (18-24). These results were highly significant.
That did not mean that most adults with high ADHD symptom scores were unhappy. Even among those with the highest ADHD symptom scores (18-24), a majority (58 percent) reported being either "fairly happy" or "very happy." Butonly11 a percent of that group reported being "very happy," as opposed to 44 percent of those scoring the lowest on ADHD symptoms.
While the association is clear and strong, establishing causation is trickier. As the authors acknowledge, "as the symptoms associated with ADHD are similar to, and sometimes overlap, with those that are commonly observed in individuals with other psychiatric disorders ... a screening instrument to identify ADHD symptoms may have had limited power to distinguish 'pure' ADHD and cases with ADHD symptoms related to other psychiatric disorders." Emotional instability and anxiety disorder each mediated more than a third of the association between ADHD and unhappiness, and depression almost a third. These could have been brought about by ADHD and could also have been produced by other psychiatric disorders. Because the ASRS is not a diagnostic instrument, the authors concluded that "the results of this study should be considered provisional, until if, and when, they are replicated in those with a clinical diagnosis of ADHD with and without comorbid disorders."
Andrew Stickley, AiKoyanagi, Hidetoshi Takahashi, VladislavRuchkin, Yosuke Inoue, Aki Yazawa, Yoko Kamio, "Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms and happiness among adults in the general population," PsychiatryResearch (2018), DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2018.05.004.