ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a mental illness that still, despite the progression of our attitudes towards mental health, remains largely misunderstood. How so? Because, upon hearing someone mention the word ‘ADHD’, people still tend to conjure up in their mind, images of ‘naughty’ children and adults who ‘can’t sit still.’ Whilst people with a diagnosis of ADHD can experience such symptoms, they are most certainly not the only symptoms that ADHD can present itself with. Believing differently- believing that ADHD is only characterised by challenging behaviour in children and restlessness in adults- can, in fact, be incredibly damaging to people all over the world who have, or suspect they might have, ADHD. Why? Because such factually incorrect stereotyping can prevent people from seeking the help which they need and deserve due to them fearing that they will not be taken seriously as a result and, even people who do foster up the courage to seek help are at risk of being misdiagnosed.
So, if ADHD isn’t all naughty children and adults who can’t sit still, (which, it isn’t, as we have established), then what exactly is it? Well, according to NHS England, the basic definition of ADHD is that it’s ‘a condition that affects people’s behaviour.’ Now, reading this you might be thinking; ‘so it is characterised by naughty children then?’ As mentioned in the paragraph above, whilst yes, this- naughty behaviour- can be a factor of ADHD, it certainly doesn’t paint the full ‘picture’, and, nor does it only occur in children, for behaviour (which can occur in anyone of any age- child or adult) is concerned with so much more than simply determining whether someone is ‘naughty’ or ‘good.’ Behaviour can also consist of the ways in which one reacts to certain situations (such as by ‘acting on impulse’, taking risks due to one’s impatience, or failing to deal with stress ‘well’), how they interact with others in social situations (whether friendships or relationships), their ability to concentrate (difficulty focusing and completing tasks and following instructions, and difficulty with time management and organisation), and so on.
When combined with another mental health condition, such as OCD, for example, the way in which the condition presents itself can differ to an even greater extent.
Not only is failing to acknowledge how complex a condition ADHD is inexcusable because it can cause people to refrain from seeking help, but it is also inexcusable because it can cause people who do seek help to feel ashamed– as though they are somehow ‘in the wrong’ for experiencing something that is, ultimately, out of their control (they are not consciously choosing to behave in ways that other people deem to be ‘naughty’, it is something that happens to them subconsciously, in the same way that someone with depression doesn’t consciously choose to feel sad.)
So, to conclude, my hope for this post is that it encourages you to be more mindful of what ADHD is (a complex mental illness) and what it is not (only naughty children and restless adults.) Hopefully, by being more aware of the realities of what life with ADHD is really like for the 1.5 million people diagnosed with it in the UK alone, people effected by the condition will feel less ‘misunderstood’, and more ‘seen.’