Content Warning: subjects surrounding mental health and substance abuse.
What Is ADHD and how does it impact mental health?
ADHD or Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has been perceived in the public view as an over-diagnosed and overused explanation to hyperactive behaviours in youth and adulthood, with many popular stigmas suggesting it as a convenient excuse for such behaviours. The opposite has also been put forward, with these negative perceptions leading to avoidance of diagnosis which in turn can cause mental health issues in multiple areas of a person's life. The roles of the parent, educator and medical health professional can influence this perception, and are crucial in not only a child's life and development but also diagnosis in adulthood. But what is ADHD and comorbidity and how can we prevent the mental health issues that arise from not treating these issues seriously?
Through interviews with a mental health professional the descriptors for the disorder became clearer. They described ADHD as follows.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder where a person can struggle to receive, process, and respond to information and social situations in a calm and organised manner. Common symptoms include struggling to focus, struggling to regulate energy, and not thinking before acting. It can be difficult for persons with ADHD to filter information and urges to act or initiate thoughts can be difficult to resist.
Comorbidity is where two or more disorders are present and interact with each other. Essentially, if ADHD is left not diagnosed or if someone with diagnosed ADHD does not receive the proper support or treatment it can lead to other disorders developing such as depression and anxiety. This makes it a crucial subject of conversation today and how understanding it can lead to reducing the impact it has on mental health, although currently the diagnosis alone does not solve all of the problems.
The downside of diagnosis, stigma and beyond
As mentioned above, there are clear negative connotations that come with an ADHD diagnosis. Studies have shown that after receiving diagnosis some individuals experienced loneliness and low self-esteem due to having the label, feeling as if the label of having ADHD has stolen their identity and individuality. Alongside these feelings there have also been reports of an increase in bullying due to an ADHD diagnosis and the negative impact this can have on education and development.
Looking at adulthood it seems that a diagnosis can also have adverse effects. It has been recorded that some people choose to stop receiving treatment, either due to trying to minimise erratic behaviours internally or because of financial reasons with maintaining the treatments, leading to psychological, financial, academic, and social burdens arising. Although treatment does not completely stop these burdens from being a problem, it has been seen that people who continue treatment into adulthood have a better developmental trajectory.
Overall the negatives of an ADHD diagnosis stems from stigma, with multiple cases being centred around shame. In today's society there are set belief structures around work and relationships. When a person does not perform correctly within these structures they are shamed and labelled as flawed, manipulative or uneducated. This is where the internalisation appears, when a person's perception of themselves plummets and comorbidity can occur. So with all of these potential downsides following an ADHD diagnosis, why is it still important?
The positives of diagnosis and removal of stigma
There are key areas that are the most affected by an ADHD diagnosis, and through accurate diagnosis alongside treatment these areas can be controlled and less affected. Studies have shown that within education children who received treatment had a better academic trajectory compared to children who did not receive treatment. ADHD when left untreated can cause difficulties at home, with a study finding that there was a connection between childhood ADHD and intimate partner violence. Finally, recent research has found that there is a strong link between untreated ADHD and substance abuse, with the hyperactive symptoms leading to this impulsive behaviour. All of these factors put great importance on getting an accurate diagnosis and receiving treatment, but where does this lead us?
We are in an unfortunate standstill with mental health. Numerous groups of people not taking disorders surrounding neurodivergent people seriously leads to these longstanding issues. It has unfortunately been recorded that the mortality rate of people with ADHD is higher than normal, and although there is not a direct link between ADHD and the higher rate, it can be conferred that comorbidity causes this increased risk. When looking at the statistics however it is seen that if ADHD is diagnosed in childhood versus adolescence the risk of mortality and impact on mental health is significantly decreased.
If the general consensus surrounding neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD becomes more positive and if we start to not only accommodate people with the disorder but also actively support them with access to treatment, we can change the active negative stigmas. Parents, educators and friends all have a part to play in this. With a more positive outlook and a belief that understanding it will reduce the effect of ADHD, research can be pushed forward developing more accurate ways to detect the disorder in childhood. All it takes is the rejection of stigma to make a change with these disorders and improve the mental health of so many who are affected.