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There’s More to the Story of Mental Health and ADHD

Laurent D’Almeida, contributor 

Other people’s perceptions, prejudice and lack of understanding affect those who deal with depression and ADHD beyond just the mental health issues themselves. Family members may not understand, make assumptions or have unreasonable expectations. Many people treat those with ADHD as if they are just seeking attention when there’s so much more than goes into it. On the other hand, people may seem completely normal but still be struggling and may depend on support systems or medication.

I’ve recently had the honor of getting to know a new student physical therapist who is training on the job, and we’ve been sharing our life stories with each other. In doing so, she shared with me that she deals with depression and anxiety, which she was diagnosed with in junior high school. But two years ago when the pandemic started, she was also diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder — of which there are many different perceptions. Because of how the pandemic changed our lives, all her normal coping skills disappeared, which she says is when her ADHD symptoms worsened, and she decided to go in and get tested.

According to her, one of the biggest misconceptions about ADHD that she wanted to address is that it only has to do with attention or hyperactivity. Really, she said, it goes much deeper — into executive function as a whole: decision making, working memory, organization and emotion regulation. She also said it was long thought to only be a disorder affecting boys because ADHD manifests itself differently in men and women, so lots of females were left out and ended up not being diagnosed. Additionally, according to research from the Mayo Clinic, people with ADHD are more likely to have another mental health issue like anxiety, depression or other behavioral disorders, which explains why her diagnosis went undiscovered for so long — it was covered up by the others.

My own story with mental health issues started in the eighth grade. In middle and high school, depression and anxiety aren’t easy problems to talk about and often come with shame and one feeling like they must hide their struggles. When I was in school, I had anxiety issues that would lead me to cover up what I was dealing with. For example, when taking tests, I would start looking around and notice other people finishing. I would start feeling the pressure to hurry up and be done too so that others didn’t think I was “stupid” or “slow.”

Despite how hard I tried to hide it, two of my female teachers caught on to my anxiety and brought it up at parent-teacher conferences. I had to shamefully admit that yes, I do have anxiety when taking tests but quickly realized the benefit of being honest when the teachers were graceful enough to set up plans to take my tests elsewhere. This showed me that when dealing with mental health issues, it’s important to have support. So where do we go from here, and how can we as a society help those who deal with mental health and ADHD?

For starters, let’s try to not be as judgmental, and ask questions. Know that just because a person with ADHD talks or acts a certain way, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t normal. Learn to be your best self. Reach out and help a person who is dealing with mental health issues, or ask questions to learn more about what ADHD is and how it may impact a certain individual.