Many people with ADHD go a long, long time without being diagnosed. Sometimes they never get diagnosed.
Commonly, this is because they simply don’t know the symptoms of ADHD and no one else recognizes that they have signs of ADHD either, so they live on in not-so-blissful ignorance. It’s hard to seek help for something you don’t know you have. If you don’t know enough to connect the problems in your life to ADHD, the default response is often simply to blame the problems on yourself, or on other people.
- They know they have ADHD, but they don’t know how much they stand to benefit from treatment: When you’ve lived your whole life with ADHD, it’s all you know, so it’s hard to see the full extent of how your symptoms are impacting your life, much less how your life will change when your symptoms are treated. Even if people recognize that they have some symptoms of ADHD, they might not have insight into the full depth of their symptoms, and they might not understand how life-changing treating those symptoms can potentially be. And if you don’t think treating ADHD will improve your life very much, that removes some of the incentive to seek help for ADHD in the first place.
- They think their symptoms aren’t that bad: People with mental health conditions tend to lack insight into their own mental health conditions. That’s part of the package, and ADHD isn’t any different. People with ADHD are so used to living with their symptoms that they may just view their symptoms as normal. They may also hold onto some belief that if they just “try harder,” their symptoms will go away, even if all the evidence in their lives points to the opposite conclusion.
- They’ve had bad experiences with mental health professionals: There are, unfortunately, plenty of mental health professionals out there who don’t know a lot about ADHD. A significant number of people with ADHD have had to work with multiple mental mental health professionals, sometimes over many years, before they’re correctly diagnosed. For every person with ADHD who gets misdiagnosed, then eventually moves on to a new doctor and gets correctly diagnosed, there’s probably another person who got misdiagnosed and just lost faith in psychiatrists altogether.
- They feel like seeking help is a sign of weakness: Being proactive about improving your mental health is a sign of strength and resilience in my book, but there’s still a larger stigma around seeking psychological help in our society. It seems likely that some people hesitate to seek out a diagnosis or treatment for ADHD because they’ve been sent the message meeting with a mental health professional is a sign of weakness or something that “crazy people” do.
- They’re going to seek help…but not right now: People with ADHD are notorious procrastinators. No doubt many people who suspect they have ADHD do intend to seek treatment, but just never quite get around to it.
- They don’t want to be on meds long-term: Some people might hesitate to seek out an evaluation for possible ADHD because they don’t want to be on medication indefinitely, so there doesn’t seem like much point in getting diagnosed. However, these people are missing the many other benefits of seeking help for ADHD. First, an official diagnosis can open up possibilities like accommodations and legal recognition of having a disability. Second, even if you don’t intend to stay on meds for the rest of your life, trying meds for a limited period of time can be an eye-opening insight into how ADHD symptoms are affecting your life and what life is like without ADHD symptoms. Finally, even if you want to go the no-meds route, working with a mental health professional can make it possible to understand your symptoms in new ways and to find other methods of managing these symptoms.
I would argue that none of these are good reasons not to seek help for ADHD. They’re understandable reasons, sure, but they’re ultimately counterproductive.
The problem is that it’s hard to make an informed decision about how being diagnosed with ADHD will affect your life until you’ve actually been diagnosed with ADHD. In my case, I know that the process of being diagnosed with and treated for ADHD led to entirely new insights that I wouldn’t have expected.
Going from thinking “hmm, I might have ADHD” to taking the concrete step of actually meeting with a mental health professional can be life-changing. If you think you might have ADHD but you’re considering not seeking help for it, there’s a good chance you’re underestimating the impact working with a mental health professional for an extended period of time would have on your life. Think of it this way: if you don’t ever get evaluated for ADHD, you don’t know what you could be missing out on, but if you do meet with a mental health professional, you always have the option of going back to living with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD if that’s what you prefer!
Image: Flickr/Mariano Cuajao