Trivialization is a common type of mental health stigma, and it’s one people with ADHD encounter frequently.
Trivializing ADHD involves downplaying the costs of ADHD symptoms and assuming that ADHD doesn’t have much effect on someone’s life. Often, it involves treating ADHD as equivalent to normal absentmindedness rather than a mental health condition with real consequences.
One of the things about trivialization is that it can happen so casually. An offhand comment here, a passing remark there. Some types of comments you’ll often hear that trivialize ADHD are:
- “Doesn’t everyone have that?” The implication is that there’s no difference between the occasional moments of inattention everyone experiences and ADHD.
- “Oh, I have that too!” If this is said by someone who actually does have ADHD, then of course it’s just a statement of fact, not a comment that trivializes ADHD. But often it’s said by someone who doesn’t have ADHD but thinks ADHD is just the same as everyday distractedness.
- “Have you tried … ?” Here, the idea is that someone with ADHD has a simple organization problem that can be fixed with one well-pointed suggestion from a casual acquaintance with no mental health training. Inevitably, the suggestion is something obvious like “have you tried keeping a to-do list?” Yes. Yes, I have.
- “You just need to focus.” Right, so I just need to not have symptoms of ADHD? Good idea.
- “I’m so ADHD.” This is another comment that equates ADHD and typical distractedness, by literally describing the latter as the former.
These comments can be well-intentioned, as in the case of “have you tried … ?” But having good intentions doesn’t mean you aren’t trivializing ADHD.
Trivializing can also come from a place of wanting to make someone feel like having ADHD isn’t a big deal. The thing is, having ADHD is a big deal. People with ADHD face obstacles in school, in the workplace, at home, and in everyday life, and statistically they tend to have significantly worse outcomes in these areas.
Trying to make us feel like ADHD isn’t so bad doesn’t change that. It just feels like you’re minimizing the real challenges we deal with.
If you aren’t sure what to say to someone with ADHD that doesn’t trivialize the condition, don’t worry, you don’t have to say anything. Just listen to us and seek to understand how ADHD affects our lives, and you won’t go wrong!
Image: Flickr/Charles Nadeau