Have you been having trouble with focus at work or school? Do you find that your mind wanders or that you are easily distracted? Maybe it takes so much effort to pay attention to the task in front of you. Or perhaps you constantly forget appointments, miss deadlines, or misplace important items.
These are all possible symptoms of ADHD: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. But did you know that trouble with focus or concentration could instead be a sign of other mental health concerns? We share just a few of those possible concerns below.
First, though, why is it important to figure out the underlying reason for your trouble concentrating?
Knowing the Underlying Reason
If you are asking questions about your problems with focus, you likely want a strategy that will decrease your symptoms – you want to improve your ability to pay attention and complete tasks. You might be considering medication, therapy, or other strategies to help you focus.
But, how you treat problems with concentration depends on the underlying reason. For example, most medications to treat ADHD are designed to treat ADHD only. They would not be effective for most other mental health concerns and could cause unwanted side effects. In addition, counseling strategies that help people with ADHD are very skills focused. That same focus on skills may be insufficient for people whose trouble with concentration is caused by other reasons – you may be treating some of the symptoms but not the underlying cause.
Other Possible Explanations
ADHD is one possible explanation for inattention or concentration problems. However, here are just a few of the other mental health diagnoses that include one or more symptoms related to difficulty with concentration, attention, or focus:
- Major Depressive Disorder (depression)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Adjustment Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
If your trouble concentrating is actually due to depression, anxiety, trauma, or stress–rather than ADHD–this would be good to know. But, how can you find this out?
How Can I Find Out?
Although many people start with Dr. Google to learn more about their symptoms, it is generally a good idea to follow up your personal research with other strategies. For example, by scheduling an appointment to talk with a professional who specializes in mental health. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatry providers are all familiar with mental health diagnoses. They can ask you questions that help to identify the explanations for your trouble with focus.
We especially suggest you consult with a professional if your symptoms interfere with your functioning or cause you distress. But, sometimes it is hard to choose which mental health service is best to get you the answers you need. Here is some information about different mental health services, including how they may help you with your trouble concentrating:
Individual counseling involves regularly meeting one-on-one with a therapist to talk about your concerns and learn new skills to improve your mental wellbeing. In your first counseling appointment, some questions will focus on the symptoms you are experiencing and the goals you have for improvement. Your counseling provider will continue to learn more about your concerns in future sessions while also working with you on your goals. Be sure to tell your therapist about your concentration concerns. Your counselor can usually give a preliminary diagnosis (explanation for your symptoms) after one to two appointments. Your therapy provider may also refer you for psychiatry services and/or psychological assessment to complement your counseling services.
Psychiatry services include the possibility of medication to treat your symptoms, as well as discussion of behavioral strategies to address your concerns. If you schedule a psychiatry appointment, the first meeting is an intake that covers your mental health symptoms, other medical concerns, history (if any) with medication, and goals for improvement. Your psychiatric provider will also discuss the risks and benefits of medications to treat your symptoms. Your provider will assign a preliminary diagnosis (explanation for your symptoms) at this appointment, and you may receive a prescription for medication. Follow-up appointments are scheduled to monitor improvement and side effects and to make any needed changes to your treatment plan. Your psychiatry provider may also refer you to counseling and/or psychological assessment to complement your psychiatric services.
Psychological assessment (also called psychological testing) is the service most directly focused on finding the diagnosis or diagnoses that explain your symptoms. This service includes an interview with a psychologist or psychological technician to learn more about your concerns and history. You will also complete multiple psychological tests. In a meeting at a later date, your provider would go over the assessment report, which includes diagnostic impressions and treatment recommendations.
Psychological assessment is not required for most people to get an accurate diagnosis. However, if you have many different symptoms or if you have not been helped as much as you would like from prior counseling or psychiatry services, testing may be especially helpful. Many people also schedule an assessment when they need academic accommodations for their symptoms.
What about Hyperactivity Symptoms and ADHD?
Trouble with focus is a definite symptom of ADHD for those with the inattentive and combined presentation. But some people struggle much more with restlessness and not being able to sit still. Those symptoms can be a sign of hyperactive/impulsive presentation of ADHD, or could be a sign of a different concern. Stay tuned for our blog post on Can’t Sit Still: Is it ADHD or Something Else?
Informational Purposes Only
The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only and is general in nature. If you are seeking personalized medical advice, you should schedule an appointment with a mental health professional.
Schedule an Appointment
If you live in the state of Alabama, you can schedule an appointment at Auburn Psychological Wellness Center. We offer counseling, psychiatry services, and psychological assessment. We have providers who can see children (8+), teens, and adults. Learn more about scheduling an appointment.