Is ADHD a Mental Illness?

Is ADHD a mental illness? Contact Dr. John G Kuna and Associates mental health services in Pennsylvania for more information

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that interferes with daily life. It affects both children and adults and can significantly impact academic, social, and occupational functioning. But is ADHD a mental illness? This question has been the subject of debate among experts in the field for many years. In this blog, we will explore the topic in-depth to help you better understand the nature of ADHD.

Defining Mental Illness

Before we can answer the question of whether ADHD is a mental illness, we first need to define what we mean by the term “mental illness.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness is a broad term encompassing a range of conditions characterized by significant changes in mood, thinking, or behavior. Mental illnesses can be caused by various factors, including genetic, environmental, and social factors, and can affect individuals of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.

The terms “mental disorder” and “mental illness” are often used interchangeably, and there is no universally accepted distinction between the two. However, some experts in the field of mental health use these terms to refer to different aspects of mental health conditions.

Examples of mental illnesses include anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. Mental illnesses can be diagnosed using specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a widely used diagnostic tool in the field of mental health.

ADHD as a Neurodevelopmental Disorder

ADHD, on the other hand, is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder, not a mental illness. Neurodevelopmental disorders are a group of conditions that affect the development of the brain and nervous system, resulting in difficulties with communication, social interaction, and behavior. Other examples of neurodevelopmental disorders include autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, and specific learning disorders.

ADHD is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that affect the development of the brain, particularly in areas related to attention, impulse control, and executive functioning. Although ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, it can persist into adulthood, and some individuals may not receive a diagnosis until later in life.

ADHD and Mental Health

While ADHD is not a mental illness, individuals with ADHD may experience mental health challenges related to their condition. For example, ADHD can co-occur with other mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. Individuals with ADHD may be more likely to experience symptoms of these conditions than those without ADHD. Additionally, the challenges associated with ADHD, such as difficulty with organization and time management, can lead to stress and frustration, impacting mental health.

Furthermore, individuals with ADHD may experience stigma related to their condition, hurting their mental health. Stigma can lead to feelings of shame, isolation, and low self-esteem, which can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD and make it more difficult to seek treatment.


In conclusion, ADHD is not a mental illness but a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects attention, impulse control, and executive functioning. While individuals with ADHD may experience mental health challenges related to their condition, such as co-occurring anxiety and depression or stigma, ADHD itself is not classified as a mental illness. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of ADHD, it is essential to seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.

In-Person & Online Therapy in Berwick, Pennsylvania

Dr. John G Kuna and Associates offers both in-person and online therapy in Berwick, Pennsylvania, as well as 13 other convenient locations across Eastern Pennsylvania. If you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD or believe you may have ADHD or any co-occurring disorders, we can assist you in reaching your goals to get your mental health back on track. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment with one of our caring and compassionate therapists, counselors, or psychologists.