Prevalence of ADHD among adults

The main facts and figures show that:

  • there were no meaningful differences identified between ethnic groups in the percentage of people aged 16 years and over who screened positive for ADHD, so these figures should not be used as evidence of real differences in the population as a whole

  • although the table shows differences between groups for the percentage screening positive for ADHD, sample sizes were too small to draw reliable conclusions

Things you need to know

A positive screen for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) indicates that someone is likely to have ADHD, based on symptoms they have described. A full clinical assessment would be needed for diagnosis. The questions in the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (AMPS) are used to estimate how common ADHD is likely to be in the adult population, but they aren’t used as part of any national screening programme in England.

The survey covers people aged 16 or over who live in private households. It doesn’t include those who live in institutional settings (such as hospitals or prisons) or in temporary housing (such as hostels or bed and breakfasts) or those who sleep rough. There were 7,546 respondents to the survey.

These statistics have been age-standardised so comparisons can be made between ethnic groups as if they had the same age profile (an age profile shows the number of people of different ages within an ethnic group). They do not tell you the actual percentage of people in each ethnic group who have or would have a positive screen for ADHD.

Keep in mind when making comparisons between ethnic groups that all survey estimates are subject to a degree of uncertainty as they are based on a sample of the population. The degree of uncertainty is greater when the number of respondents is small, so it will be highest for minority ethnic groups. In this situation, the number of respondent in each group was too small to make any conclusions about differences between them.

These statistics are based on participants’ direct responses (as opposed to someone else filling in the survey). As a result, socially undesirable or stigmatised feelings and behaviours may be under-reported. This is a risk with any survey based on self-reported data.

The ethnic groupings used here are broad; there is no breakdown of data for the more specific ethnic groups each contains. Some of the specific ethnic groups have very different experiences to one another. For example, the Black/Black British group could include both recent migrants from Somalia and Black people born in Britain to British parents.

What the data measures

This data measures the percentage of people aged 16 or older in England who screened positive for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the 6 months prior to being surveyed. The data source is the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) that was conducted in private households across England in 2014.

ADHD is a group of behaviour symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Symptoms of ADHD tend to be noticed at an early age, with most cases diagnosed when children are 6 to 12 years old. The symptoms usually improve with age, but many adults diagnosed when children continue to experience problems. People with ADHD may have additional problems such as sleep and anxiety disorders.

The ethnic categories used in this data

For this data, the number of people surveyed (the ‘sample size’) was too small to draw any firm conclusions about detailed ethnic categories. Therefore, the data is broken down into the following broad groups, based on the ONS harmonised ethnic group questions for use on national surveys.

  • Asian/Asian British
  • Black/Black British
  • Mixed/Multiple and Other ethnicities
  • White British
  • Other White

Ethnic groups and how data on ethnicity is collected

Positive screenings for ADHD in adults

Percentage of people aged 16 years and over who screened positive for ADHD in the past 6 months, by ethnicity and sex

Ethnicity All Men Women
Asian 8.9 7.9 10.2
Black 13.0 4.8 19.3
Mixed other 7.2 6.5 7.9
White British 10.2 11.0 9.4
White other 6.7 3.3 9.7

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • no meaningful difference between ethnic groups was observed in terms of the likelihood of screening positive for ADHD

Methodology

Methodology

Interviewers for the APMS asked participants questions face-to-face using the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS), which uses 6 questions to assess the ADHD characteristics of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity during the 6 months prior to interview. A positive screen for ADHD was made based on answers to 4 or more questions indicating these characteristics.

Each survey involved interviewing a large stratified probability sample of the general population, covering people living in private households. The full adult age range was covered, with the youngest participants aged 16 and the oldest over 100.

While a positive screen for ADHD isn’t a diagnosis, it does suggest they probably have ADHD and warrant a clinical assessment. The ‘Methods’ chapter of the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014 sets out the specific methodology of the ASRS.

The prevalence of ADHD is determined here by dividing the number of respondents with a score of 4 or more on the ASRS by the total number of respondents.

The two-phase survey design involved an initial interview with the whole sample, followed up with a structured assessment carried out by clinically trained interviewers with a subset of participants. People were assessed or screened for a range of different types of mental disorder, from common conditions like depression and anxiety disorder through to less common neurological and mental conditions such as psychotic disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The use of a survey to assess mental health conditions is not as reliable as a diagnosis made using a clinical interview. The assessments used have been validated, however, and are among the best available.

The survey covers people who live in private households. It doesn’t include those who live in institutional settings (such as hospitals or prisons) or in temporary housing (such as hostels or bed and breakfasts) or those who sleep rough. People living in such settings are likely to have worse mental health than those living in private households (Gill et al. 1996; cited in APMS 2014).

Where a selected participant could not take part in a long interview due to a physical or mental health condition, some information about this was recorded by the interviewer on the doorstep. This information may be biased due to it having been collected from another household member.

Socially undesirable or stigmatised feelings and behaviours may be underreported. While this is a risk for any study based on self-report data, the study goes some way to minimising this by collecting particularly sensitive information in a self-completion format.

Some people selected for the survey could not be contacted or refused to take part. The achieved response rate (57%) is in line with that of similar surveys (Barnes et al. 2010; cited in APMS 2014). Weighting helps take account of those who were selected for the survey but didn’t take part.

Weighting is used to adjust the results of a survey to make them representative of the population and improve their accuracy. For example, a survey which contains 25% females and 75% males will not accurately reflect the views of the general population which we know is around 50% male and 50% female.

More detailed information on the weighting used here can be found on page 24 of the ‘Methods’ chapter of the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014.

Confidence intervals

The confidence intervals for each ethnic group are available in the ‘download the data’ section.

11% of White British men surveyed screened positive for ADHD. This is a reliable estimate of the percentage of White British men in England who are likely to have ADHD. Because the APMS results are based on a random sample of adults aged 16 or older, however, it's impossible to be 100% certain of the true percentage.

It’s 95% certain, however, that somewhere between 9.5% and 12.7% of all White British men in England have ADHD. In statistical terms, this is a 95% confidence interval. This means that if 100 random samples were taken, then 95 times out of 100 the estimate would fall between the lower and upper bounds of the confidence interval. But 5 times out of 100 it would fall outside this range.

The smaller the survey sample, the more uncertain the estimate and the wider the confidence interval. For example, fewer men from the Black/Black British ethnic group were sampled for this survey than British White men, so we can be less certain about the estimate for the smaller group. This greater uncertainty is expressed by the wider confidence interval of between 2.0% and 10.9%.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

Risk to disclosure has been accounted for with limitations of the level of disaggregation, size of category groupings, and the maintaining of large underlying populations for analysis. No further suppression or other disclosure control has been applied.

Rounding

Percentages have been rounded to one decimal point.

Quality and methodology information

Further technical information

APMS 2014 Background Data Quality Statement (PDF)

Data sources

Source

Type of data

Survey data

Type of statistic

National Statistics

Publisher

NHS Digital

Publication frequency

Purpose of data source

The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) series provides England's National Statistics for the prevalence of mental illness and treatment access in the adult household population.

Download the data

APMS_screen_positive_for_ADHD - Spreadsheet (csv) 3 KB

The percentage of adults who screened positive for ADHD in the six months prior to the survey in England 2014, by broad ethnic group and sex with 95% confidence intervals of the estimates. In this analysis a score of four or more was taken to be a positive screen for ADHD. Additionally, estimates of the percentage of adults with a score of six have been provided. These values do not have associated confidence intervals.