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Have you been paying ADHD tax without knowing?

Alongside sourdough starter, toilet paper hoarding, and work-from-home, topics such as ADHD became household names throughout the last few years of the COVID pandemic. So just what is the deal with ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - hyperactive, inattentive, or both?

If you know the stereotype, it was the naughty boys in class who couldn't sit still and behave (silently) like the rest of the kids. Yet throughout the last few decades, there has been an uptick in people being diagnosed - including more adults, and more females - than ever before.

Worldwide estimates are that around 1 in every 14 people (or just over 7%) have ADHD. But what exactly is ADHD? While you may know others around suddenly being diagnosed - is ADHD in adults even real?

ADHD is classed as a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that it is present from early life and has a strong genetic component.

It is generally diagnosed as either hyperactive (restlessness and impulsiveness); inattentive (distraction-prone or trouble focusing) - or a combination of the two.

Other symptoms experienced can be emotional dysregulation, executive dysfunction, and sensory processing difficulties.

If you've struggled with any of these symptoms - or live with someone who struggles, coming up with solid strategies for approaching life alongside a psychologist who understands can be incredibly beneficial.

Although medication can be part of the picture for some people, there are a multitude of ways that understanding your unique brain and coming up with ways to support you can feel like the difference between drowning and thriving.

Neurodiversity in the world's eco-system of brains

Just like the critical importance of biodiversity in our ecosystem, the way of looking at different 'neurotypes' (ways that different brains function) has been a hot topic in recent years. The vast representation of the ways brains work the world over is called neurodiversity.

When looking at how the vast complexity of our world operates, it makes perfect sense for people (and their brains) to function differently. After all, if everybody had the same strengths, we'd probably have died out long ago.

Mental Health 'Influencers'

Since 2020, when the world was plunged into forced online connection and away from face-to-face interacton; a trend for talking more about mental health - and struggles, was placed front and centre.

In particular, social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram saw the explosion of mental health influencers. A few of whom were actual professionals - but more often than not, were people simply talking about their own life experiences.

While this was valuable for breaking down stigma, it inevitably brought some other tricky things to the table - such as misinformation.

And these days? Well, most people have had the experience of using "Dr Google" to diagnose themselves from a symptom or two.

And while being more informed and listening to our bodies is helpful - thinking you're dying from cancer until your GP tells you that your symptom was actually completely normal can cause some really unnecessary stress.

If you want expert advice, listen to experts

Yes, it helps to connect to others and their experiences, but for treatment and solid advice, it's health professionals who have the ability to support those with ADHD to achieve far greater outcomes.

In a recent study, researchers found that over half of social media videos on the topic of ADHD were misleading. Although the videos were easy to understand, they were not very helpful in terms of providing actionable information.

Most of the misleading videos were uploaded by non-professionals, while healthcare providers uploaded videos of higher quality, and that were more useful, actionable, and accurate to viewers.

The ADHD tax

The hidden costs of ADHD can be burdensome to those suffering from undiagnosed or untreated ADHD.

The ADHD tax refers to the hidden costs of untreated or undiagnosed ADHD. It encompasses challenges in education and employment, increased healthcare expenses, decreased productivity, strained relationships, and potential legal and financial consequences.

A higher chance of dying early - what?

Some may be shocked to find out that individuals with ADHD face a higher risk of early mortality compared to the general population. The risk is even higher for women, and for people diagnosed as an adult.

Studies have shown that ADHD is associated with increased rates of accidents, injuries, and risky behaviours, which can contribute to premature death.

On top of that, co-occurring conditions such as substance abuse, mood disorders, and impulsivity-related problems further amplify this risk.

The 'explosion' of ADHD diagnoses

Are there actually more people people with ADHD - or are we now just realising that many people had it all along?

With the huge increase in referrals and diagnoses worldwide and in Australia, there are some even questioning whether it's "even real".

An unfortunate bias is that a 'neurotypical' person (someone without ADHD or any other neurodevelopmental difference) may not understand the experiences or invisible struggles of people living with ADHD.

Similarly, people with ADHD may not realise that actually - not everyone has the struggles you're having!

The hyperactive boy stereotype

It has been a common perception that boys are more likely to exhibit hyperactivity and disruptive behaviour, and hence get the ADHD diagnosis fairly early on in life. After all, those struggles become pretty obvious in a classroom full of other kids who perhaps don't want to, but still sit down and listen in school.

Research has actually shown that ADHD affects both boys and girls, although symptoms may manifest really quite differently between genders, and of course between individuals.

Girls, on the other hand, may be overlooked or underdiagnosed because the 'pattern' that their ADHD tends to produce is more of the daydreaming variety.

Trouble with things such as concentrating, being on time, and an overall struggle to keep up with the demands of school are far easier to slip under the radar.

You mean women can have ADHD too?

This historical view meant that a plethora of adults (read: women) were never diagnosed, but have now caught on as adults to realise they've been struggling their whole lives.

Unlike the boy bouncing off the walls, interestingly, it's actually the brain of the ADHD adult that is more likely to be hyperactive!

What does this mean? Instead of feeling physically as if you're 'running on a motor', it's actually the thoughts that can run a million miles an hour.

Is it depression, anxiety - or ADHD?

Out of the population, women tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety than men. There could be many causes for this - but perhaps ADHD (and particularly, undiagnosed ADHD) may be one of those reasons.

The invisible struggle that an undiagnosed female may have gone through in her life can leave her feeling frustrated at an accumulating "ADHD tax", but on top of the practical struggles caused by that- there can be a heavy mental load associated with a sense of failure.

With these invisible struggles, is it any wonder that this population is more likely to experience depression and anxiety?

The fact that these conditions tend to co-occur has also made diagnosis harder for women, as many have only been recognised as struggling with depression, anxiety or conditions such as borderline personality disorder.

Whilst some of these diagnoses may be accurate, there is also a chance that these diagnoses may be staring at the "aftermath" of untreated ADHD.

If a person's ADHD were to be adequately diagnosed, addressed, and treated, there is a chance that other aspects of mental well-being may also improve considerably.

Where can I go for support?

Given the explosion in interest and diagnoses of ADHD worldwide, the range and options in supports are plentiful.

Yet just like the mental health tiktok trend, it's important to understand the quality of the evidence behind what you're investing your time, money, and effort into.

While ADHD 'coaching' has become popular for supporting individuals to achieve goals, there are often a number of deeper mental struggles that people with ADHD have dealt with. Namely, the heightened risks for conditions like addiction, depression, and anxiety disorders.

To untangle the messiness associated with your own story, you may find one-on-one help more deeply beneficial.

Psychological therapies work in a specific way to address deeper roots of historical mental struggles, and can also provide strategies and skills to tackle the curve-balls that life throws.


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