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The Last Straw

People who are diagnosed with ADHD as adults spend their pre-diagnosis lives getting by … until, one day, they can’t. They spend their lives using their coping skills to hang in there, until they reach a point where their coping skills aren’t enough.

Last StrawWhen people get diagnosed as adults, often there’s some sort of crisis that finally, after years, leads them to a mental health professional and starts them down the path of diagnosis. A “last straw” that breaks their ability to keep living with undiagnosed ADHD.

A common kind of last straw is a change of environment. Going to college, starting a new job. Suddenly, in a new environment, the undiagnosed ADHDer finds that their coping skills aren’t enough anymore. The environment makes new demands of them that, because of their ADHD symptoms, they’re unable to meet.

Another kind of last straw is another mental health condition that reaches the point where it requires treatment by a professional. A depressive episode, anxiety that becomes unmanageable, a substance disorder. Comorbid conditions are common among people with ADHD, and sometimes it’s by seeking treatment for one of these conditions that people find out they have ADHD.

Sometimes the last straw takes the form of a major setback like losing a job, dropping out of school, or having a long-term relationship fall apart. These negative events can force people to take stock of their lives and look at what needs to change, which can set off a process that leads to being diagnosed with ADHD.

In any case, what makes the last straw the last straw, and not the only straw, is that it occurs in a certain context: the stress of living with undiagnosed ADHD that has been building for years. A crisis that results in a diagnosis of ADHD can be a blessing in disguise because it’s a jolt that leads you to acknowledge and start to address symptoms that were there all along.

Image: Flickr/Richard Guy

The Last Straw

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). The Last Straw. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Aug 2017
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