The ailing NHS risks being ‘overwhelmed’ by a huge surge in ADHD and autism self-diagnoses, experts have warned.  

Professor Anthony David, director of UCL Institute of Mental Health, said clinicians had seen a spike in Brits wanting a diagnosis ‘rubber-stamped’. 

Trendy apps promising to help manage the condition and social media influencers promoting everyday problems as potential symptoms have also sowed the seed about certain neuropsychiatric conditions, he claimed. 

But the rise in self-diagnoses might also be harming those in need of the most help, he argued. 

Since 1998 there has been a nine-fold increase in autism diagnoses in the UK, with the largest rise among adults, figures suggest. 

Fascinating graphs show how ADHD prescriptions have risen over time, with the patient demographic shifting from children to adults with women in particular now driving the increase

Fascinating graphs show how ADHD prescriptions have risen over time, with the patient demographic shifting from children to adults with women in particular now driving the increase

Coming off as a flirt is one potential ADHD 'sign' being promoted on TikTok

'Mystery bruises' was another potential indicator of ADHD according to TikTok creator Katie Sue

TikTok creator Katie Sue lists some signs of ADHD as including ‘mystery bruises’, ‘coming across as a flirt’, ‘having low esteem’ or ‘forgetting about food until it goes bad’

Latest NHS data also shows a massive surge year-on-year in ADHD drug prescriptions. 

Professor David said: ‘It is a big and growing issue. There are people who have made their own mind up about a diagnosis, often as adults.’

He added: ‘And that has led to huge waiting lists. So the system can’t cope with all of a sudden people wanting to have an assessment.’

‘Neurodivergence’, which means having an atypical mind, is a category used principally to describe conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia and Tourette’s syndrome. 

Writing in the journal Psychological Medicine with Dr Quinton Deeley, a social behaviour and neurodevelopment expert from King’s College London, they also argued accounts of later-life diagnoses are ‘frequently’ featured in the press.

The 13 signs of autism in adults, according to the NHS 

Main signs of autism

  • Finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling
  • Getting very anxious about social situations
  • Finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on your own
  • Seeming blunt, rude or not interested in others without meaning to
  • Finding it hard to say how you feel
  • Taking things very literally – for example, you may not understand sarcasm or phrases like ‘break a leg’
  • Having the same routine every day and getting very anxious if it changes

Other signs of autism

  • Not understanding social ‘rules’, such as not talking over people
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Getting too close to other people, or getting very upset if someone touches or gets too close to you
  • Noticing small details, patterns, smells or sounds that others do not
  • Having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities
  • Liking to plan things carefully before doing them

They said: ‘Take a middle-aged man who talks of his strong narrow interests as a child, and feeling he was different from children his age growing up. 

‘When older he manages to channel these interests into an occupation and gains admirers for his ability to articulate them with passion but runs into conflict for being uncompromising and “obsessive”. 

‘He then embraces a diagnosis of autism – into which his life-story fits neatly. 

‘It “explains” his interests, attitudes, and difficulties. He needn’t feel at odds with the world in the same way.’

They added: ‘It is easy to appreciate the feeling of being (finally) understood and of not being alone. 

‘However, it is not obvious how lasting such feelings are and there is little research on this matter.’ 

It is estimated that around 700,000 Brits and 5.4 million adults in the US have an autism diagnosis. 

According to a 2021 Newcastle University study, around one in 57 (1.76 per cent) children in the UK is on the spectrum. 

While NICE guidance asserts that no-one should wait longer than three months between being referred and first being seen, latest NHS figures show over 80,000 people have been waiting longer than this. 

Television presenters Melanie Sykes, Chris Packham and Christine McGuinness are among celebrities who have shared their diagnoses. 

Meanwhile, ADHD affects around 5 per cent of children in the US with rates in the UK about 3.6 per cent in boys and 0.9 per cent of girls. 

But as many as one in 20 adults in Britain could have the condition, according to the ADHD Foundation charity.

NHS data for the 2022/23 financial year shows more than 230,000 people in England were now taking ADHD meds to combat their inattentiveness and hyperactivity.

Prescription rates jumped by a fifth in a year, in the biggest annual rise since modern records began in 2015.

In the journal paper, however, Professor David and Dr Deeley also argued that a diagnosis validation could come at the cost of those who need help more.

They wrote: ‘People who are less articulate or non-verbal are, in the arena of self-diagnosis, marginalized and denied a voice — an example of testimonial injustice.’

Earlier this week scientists also argued society is to blame for creating the ‘mental health crisis’, with doctors handing out diagnoses like ‘candy’. 

It came in the wake of a report revealing 20-somethings are now more likely to be off work sick than adults in their 40s amid soaring rates of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. 

Sheridan Smith, 42, has recently revealed she has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (pictured in 2023).  The 42-year-old, who shot to fame on The Royle Family as Antony 's girlfriend Emma, told Vogue that it has helped her 'make sense of a lot of things' in her life and better understand her 'brain's background noise'. Other celebs to have been diagnosed with ADHD include Olivia Atwood, Sue Perkins, Johnny Vegas and Ben Fogle

Sheridan Smith, 42, has recently revealed she has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (pictured in 2023).  The 42-year-old, who shot to fame on The Royle Family as Antony ‘s girlfriend Emma, told Vogue that it has helped her ‘make sense of a lot of things’ in her life and better understand her ‘brain’s background noise’. Other celebs to have been diagnosed with ADHD include Olivia Atwood, Sue Perkins, Johnny Vegas and Ben Fogle

Television presenters Melanie Sykes (pictured), Chris Packham and Christine McGuinness are among celebrities who have shared their autism diagnoses

Television presenters Melanie Sykes (pictured), Chris Packham and Christine McGuinness are among celebrities who have shared their autism diagnoses

Professor Frank Furedi, a sociologist at the University of Kent, said: ‘We have the constant proliferation of psychological diagnosis given to children so things like ADHD are constantly handed out like candy.

‘If you look at all the reports published over the past 20 years, it’s really intensified in the last ten years, they’re constantly talking about mental health conditions.’

Earlier this year, a damning BBC investigation found patients could get an ADHD diagnosis and powerful drugs through unreliable video call assessments with private clinics.

But, experts have also argued that ADHD was only officially listed in the UK as a disorder that affects adults in 2008. 

Before then, it was only recognised as a childhood problem that kids grew out of.

As a result, rather than being over diagnosed, some experts argue that many adults now being told they have ADHD have gone years having their symptoms dismissed. 

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural condition defined by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

It affects around five per cent of children in the US. Some 3.6 per cent of boys and 0.85 per cent of girls suffer in the UK. 

Symptoms typically appear at an early age and become more noticeable as a child grows. These can also include:

  • Constant fidgeting 
  • Poor concentration
  • Excessive movement or talking
  • Acting without thinking
  • Inability to deal with stress 
  • Little or no sense of danger 
  • Careless mistakes
  • Mood swings
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Difficulty organising tasks
  •  Continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones
  • Inability to listen or carry out instructions 

Most cases are diagnosed between six and 12 years old. Adults can also suffer, but there is less research into this.

ADHD’s exact cause is unclear but is thought to involve genetic mutations that affect a person’s brain function and structure.

Premature babies and those with epilepsy or brain damage are more at risk. 

ADHD is also linked to anxiety, depression, insomnia, Tourette’s and epilepsy.  

There is no cure. 

A combination of medication and therapy is usually recommended to relieve symptoms and make day-to-day life easier. 

Source: NHS Choices 

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