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Could an app help tackle high levels of depression in teenagers with ADHD?

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What did the project achieve?

Researchers have worked closely with young people with ADHD to develop and test a new mobile phone app called ‘MoodmApper’ that prompts them to rate their moods, thoughts and feelings at regular intervals across their day.

“We’ve now completed a trial involving 80 teenagers with ADHD, showing that MoodmApper is age-appropriate, user-friendly and can provide clinicians with an accurate picture of a child’s emotional experiences during real-life situations at school, at home or with friends,” says Professor Philip Asherson of Kings College London.

“Our results suggest that our new app can help doctors to spot signs of depression in young people with ADHD – so that they can access support and treatment,” says Professor Asherson. “It should also make it easier for children with ADHD and depression to monitor their own thoughts and feelings, improving self-control of their emotions – helping to improve the success of treatment.”

Children with ADHD have a poor attention span, difficulties concentrating, restlessness and impulsive behaviour. They are also at an increased risk of developing depressive symptoms, including self-harm and suicidal behaviour, by the time they reach adolescence. But unfortunately, this often goes unrecognised and untreated despite its potentially devastating impact on young lives.

The researchers hope that MoodmApper will become an important new tool for improving the recognition of depression, and other symptoms such as difficulties with concentration, in young people with ADHD – and the hope is that it could also make treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy more likely to succeed.

This research was completed on

ADHD is the most common behavioural disorder in the UK, with estimates suggesting around one in 40 children are affected.1,2 These children are up to five times more likely than others to develop depressive symptoms, including self-harm and suicidal behaviour, before they reach adulthood.3 Despite its devastating effects, this depression often goes unrecognised and untreated. Professor Philip Asherson, Dr Céline Ryckaert and Dr Jonna Kuntsi, of Kings College London, are developing a mobile phone app for young people with ADHD so they can record their feelings throughout the day. They hope the app will improve diagnosis of depression and help young people to access the treatment and support they need.

How are children’s lives affected now?

Children with ADHD are hyperactive, impulsive and easily distracted. Evidence suggests their chances of developing depression by the time they reach young adulthood is 5.5 times higher than their peers.3

“Together, ADHD and depression can have a devastating effect on young people’s lives at home and at school, with relationships and academic performance both being particularly affected,” says Professor Asherson. “Sadly, these young people are more likely to misuse drugs or alcohol, self-harm or try to take their own lives.”

“Unfortunately, depression is often overlooked in young people with ADHD,” continues Professor Asherson. “Symptoms of ADHD may also make it harder for young people to partake in certain therapies for depression, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is partly because ADHD symptoms, such as forgetfulness, can make it difficult for young people to monitor their changing moods using the paper and pencil diaries that are now used in CBT.”

New ways to identify and engage young people with ADHD who are experiencing depression are needed urgently.

How could this research help?

“We’re designing a new mobile phone application especially for young people with ADHD,” says Professor Asherson. “The app, called ‘What is on your mind?’, will enable young people to record their thoughts, feelings and emotions regularly throughout their day.”

The team is designing the app in close collaboration with young people with ADHD to ensure it’s tailored to their needs, attractive to them, and age-appropriate.

“We hope the new app will give young people with ADHD, and their doctors, an accurate picture of their mood and mood swings in real time,” says Professor Asherson. “It could enable better diagnosis of depression. It could also make it easier for young people to master the techniques used in CBT, so boosting the success rate of this treatment.

Improving the diagnosis and treatment of depression in young people with ADHD could transform both their day-to-day lives and their prospects for the future.


1. NHS Choices. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder/pa... Website accessed 16 January 2015.

2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Clinical Knowledge Summary. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. http://cks.nice.org.uk/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder#!backgroundsub:2 Website accessed 23 January 2015

3. Daviss WB. A review of co-morbid depression in pediatric ADHD: etiologies, phenomenology, and treatment. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol 2008; 18: 565-71.




Project Leader Professor Philip Asherson MRCPsych PhD
Project Team Professor Jonna P Kuntsi BSc(Hons) MSc PhDDr Celine Ryckaert MBBS MD MSc
Project Location MRC Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London
Project duration 2 years
Date awarded 11 December 2014
Project start date 21 September 2015
Project end date 31 October 2017
Grant amount £60,000
Grant code GN2315


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