“Ignorance is bliss” said no mental health professional ever.
It’s common for people with ADHD to lack insight into how their symptoms are affecting their lives. But not knowing you have the disorder doesn’t make the consequences any less real.
Rather, it means you’re stuck in a frustrating situation where inattention and impulsivity are interfering with multiple areas of your life but you don’t know why. The only explanation you have is to blame yourself, chalk it up to character flaws, blame others, resolve to “try harder” in the future but never really make any progress, or do some combination of all of the above.
Connecting the patterns in your life with ADHD lets you seek out treatment, intentionally develop coping strategies, and start to adapt your life to your strengths and weaknesses. If you have ADHD, being diagnosed can be a watershed moment in your life. It opens the way for your life to go in a radically different direction – one that’s less stressful and more intentional.
Unfortunately, many people with ADHD go their whole lives without having the revelation that there’s a reason for all the chaos, broken commitments, overlooked details and unfinished projects that have shaped their lives – a reason that has to do with how their brains work. These people don’t ever get diagnosed with ADHD because they don’t think they can benefit from working with a mental health professional, they do work with a mental health professional but get misdiagnosed, or they simply don’t have access to mental health care.
ADHD awareness is the antidote to all these problems.
Spreading ADHD awareness increases the chance that people will make the connection between the problems in their lives and ADHD, which makes it more likely that they’ll seek treatment. Spreading ADHD awareness lowers the odds that people with ADHD will be misdiagnosed by breaking down stereotypes about the disorder that persist even among some medical professionals. And spreading ADHD awareness reminds us as a society that making sure people have access to mental health treatment is a worthwhile use of our money.
There are a lot of ways you can spread ADHD awareness. You can help push back against common myths about ADHD, like the idea that its only a disorder for hyperactive boys. You can open up to some people you know about your own experiences to help put a face with the disorder. Or you can get the word out about what common signs and symptoms are.
Personally, if there’s one fact I’d really like to get out there for ADHD awareness month, though, it’s that ADHD has real, long-term consequences in people’s lives.
Sometimes we talk about ADHD by talking about what the symptoms are and then stopping there. But it’s important to keep in mind what the concrete effects of those symptoms are. There’s a reason ADHD is classified as a disability.
In a remarkably appropriate bit of timing, a meta-review of longitudinal studies on the long-term effects of ADHD was published this month. Some of the key findings were:
- People with ADHD are 3.7 times as likely to not complete high school
- People with ADHD are 2.3 times as likely to have depression
- People with ADHD are 2.0 times as likely to be unemployed
- People with ADHD are 2.4 times as likely to be arrested
These are all handy facts to have for ADHD awareness month. Another is that drivers with ADHD make more errors related to inattention and impatience but that medication normalizes their performance.
There’s a perception among some people that ADHD isn’t a “real” disorder or is maybe just a personality quirk. That’s why I think it’s important to frame ADHD as something with serious consequences when we talk about ADHD awareness. “Inattention” starts to sound less benign when you think of it as something that stops people from finishing high school, makes them lose their jobs, and gets them in car crashes.
So if there’s one thing to keep in mind for October, it’s this: ADHD isn’t just about having a brain that works differently. It’s about having a brain that works differently in a way that has implications for the long-term trajectory of your life. That’s why diagnosis is important, and that’s why awareness is important.
Image: Flickr/Ian Sane