According to the National Institute of Mental Health “ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders in children and adolescents and also affects an estimated 4.1 percent of adults, ages 18-44, in a given year.” Now, with that said, psychology also has a “flavor of the day” diagnosis that gets put out in the media and when that happens it’s on people’s minds more and therefore it is looked for more often. When a person is looking for a diagnosis of ADHD, they may be more likely to spot the actual symptoms of difficulty focusing on organizing and processing information, seeking stimulation and experiencing moodiness. Therefore, they may actually be more likely to spot ADHD and this can be wonderful for someone who actually has ADHD. However, diagnosis can be tricky as many people may show these similar symptoms with underlying issues may be stress, family conflict, grieving, addictive behaviors, or feelings associated with anxiety and depression.
If people are misdiagnosed, they are usually treated with stimulants which may be helpful, but is not healing for the underlying issues. Whether the diagnosis is ADHD or another underlying issue, I often recommend that the person who is struggling seek alternative treatments to medication only. There are a number of good alternative suggestions people give to support the diagnosis of ADHD such as exercising, eating the right foods, moving, and even being exposed to blue light which arouses the frontal lobe of the brain, the area that is dampened in true diagnoses of ADHD.
Lydia Zylowska , M.D., is a Psychiatrist in Los Angeles who created a mindfulness-based intervention for adolescents and adults who suffer with ADHD (ADDitudes Magazine Article). In an initial pilot study, she brought participants through an 8-week program of cultivate a mindfulness meditation practice in daily life to help focus and retrain the mind. Here study included 24 adults and 8 teens, two thirds of who continued on stimulant medication and a majority of who struggled with comorbid conditions, mainly mood disorders. Seventy eight percent of participants reported a reduction in total ADHD symptoms above and beyond the use of medications. Thirty percent reported at least a 30% reduction in ADHD symptoms which is the number used in ADHD medication trials to measure clinical significance. In other words, 30% reported the same or better improvement than the medications. There were also significant improvements on tests associated with attentional conflict, a key symptom in ADHD. Participants also reported a significant reduction in symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. So, even if the person was misdiagnosed, they still received benefits from this practice.
These results are promising and support the notion that using mindfulness meditation to begin to train the mind can support people to become more focused, productive, and happy in day to day life. There is something about a practice that has you come down from the busy-ness of the mind to focus on the present moment in a non-judgmental way. The effect is often a calming of the nervous system and a break from the barrage of self-judgments that we inflict on ourselves all-too-often. The other effect is a realization of how hard we are on ourselves which often incites feelings of compassion and in the field of mental health, this is considered a strength and supports resiliency.
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