I’ve been bottling up my thoughts on the stigma surrounding ADHD for a little while now, because I felt like no one would really take the time to actively understand how great of an impact it has had on so many individuals, in the past and now. But that is exactly where the problem lies for a mental disorder that is so often undermined and misunderstood.
In the upcoming age where mental health is prioritized more than ever, it’s about time we teach people that ADHD needs to be taken seriously as a justified reason to not be able to keep up with the fast-paced life designed by and for neurotypical people that is normalized. The stigma on ADHD often demotivates people to get the help that is needed for a diagnosis or proper therapy due to feelings of shame for having a lower capacity. This becomes dangerous when that shame evolves and depressive or anxious thoughts sneak in.
In the past, ADHD was always stapled as a label for kids who liked to cause trouble and couldn’t sit still. Specifically, in women, ADHD was rarely ever diagnosed as the symptoms differ greatly for men and women. Because of this, many people were ashamed to get help and therefore have accepted to deal with their issues on their own.
Throughout the last 4 decades, as more research was done on mental disorders, it became normalized as a disorder and young individuals generally feel more comfortable addressing mental health-related topics to their parents, teachers, and friends. More schools now offer facilities as well that make studying a little easier.
Some of the most important symptoms of the disorder are still unknown to most people- which is one of the main reasons it is so misunderstood. Symptoms such as intense mood swings, sensitivity to boredom, executive dysfunction, anxiety, and self-deprecating thoughts are common in many people diagnosed with ADHD, but often written off and downplayed as something that can be fixed.
This only adds to the spiral of negative thoughts as people are taught from a young age that these symptoms are their own fault; symptoms that inherently are not even right or wrong, but simply decided so by neurotypical standards because the world is not designed for brains that are wired differently and require different needs.
This problem can easily be identified in students suffering from a deeply rooted and overlooked issue in the educational system. Often, people with ADHD tend to perform very well in school at a young age and are encouraged to pursue a higher level of education. However, once planning and organizational skills are expected without the help of teachers, it’s often found out too late that that level of education is simply too demanding. Without proper help, students with brilliant minds fall behind quickly and are left to blame themselves. And so, assignments remain undone until the last minute, healthy sleep cycles are difficult to keep up with and life just seems to go one pace too fast.
A good example of how untreated ADHD can have a big impact on the rest of someone’s life is due to high sensitivity to boredom. Say, you manage to get your degree after conquering all your challenges- congratulations! You did it! The next chapter of life is right around the corner where you’ll start your career, which doesn’t mean it’ll get any easier. Due to a lesser diffusion of dopamine in the brain, people with ADHD simply do not get the same level of satisfaction from doing ordinary tasks, which is experienced as boredom and gnaws on your motivational levels.
Because of this, people with ADHD often tend to get bored quickly in their careers and either switch jobs frequently or are more likely to become depressed if the job is too understimulating. What can help make this manageable, though, is to find a career path that is diverse and stimulating enough that change is not needed to keep the brain engaged. Unfortunately, this is often not realized by young individuals until work-life has begun, and change becomes a lot harder to pursue.
This issue does not only cover ADHD, but many other individuals that suffer from mental issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, roughly 1 in 5 adults were diagnosed with a mental illness in 2019 in the United States. The most commonly diagnosed of which are anxiety disorders and mood disorders, which both greatly impact the ability to accomplish tasks and succeed in an educational or career-focused environment. If we want to create equal opportunities for everyone, we should not abandon those who are struggling mentally. It’s high time for a change.
I’d like to finish off this article with a quick note to everyone that has not been doing so well lately. If you have been struggling with mental issues, please remain kind to yourself and seek help wherever you can. Whether you can get professional treatment or simply the support of your friends- you deserve to get yourself the help you need to grow!
by Murell Zwerus