Usually when you hear someone is suffering from ADHD, your brain goes straight to an image of a child in the classroom. We all knew that child in class, always distracted, always energized, never time to be quiet or calm - and while hyperactivity often fades out as you grow up, inattentiveness and lack of impulse control can often continue on through adolescence and into adulthood. It is a very common misconception that ADHD only affects children, when in fact 4.4% of adults in the United States are diagnosed. But what is ADHD, and how can it affect our mental health if we are diagnosed?
ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - the scientific term for those of us who struggle with focus, impulse control, and hyperactivity. In children, we anticipate behavior and know what to expect - but with adults, things can be a bit harder to categorize. It affects everything from our behavior, to moods and cognitive capabilities, and can cause issues with our ability to solve problems, plan ahead, and even understand others’ actions. If you are an adult with ADHD, you are also more likely to struggle with other mental health problems - most commonly being anxiety, depression, sleep problems, conduct disorder (aggressive or antisocial behavior). Among adults, 47% also have depression, and 53% have anxiety - something that makes sense when you consider the social stigma that follows closely with people who display many of the ADHD symptoms we’ve been raised not to accept.
Co-occurring conditions can cover a wide span of additional mental illness, and often times the symptoms of ADHD can cover up symptoms of the co-occurring condition. Just like with untreated ADHD, taking the time and finding the right therapist to help sort through the emotional scramble is extremely important - if left untreated, you are left to deal with the side effects of your conditions and can often cause yourself and others around you additional unnecessary struggle.
As part of the diagnosis process, a mental health professional will be responsible for discussing all symptoms with you - and determining if there are any additional potential conditions that could be causing those symptoms and negatively affecting your life. Since often the symptoms of ADHD overlap with other conditions, it can take time with the right mental health clinician to figure out if you are experiencing ADHD, another condition with similar symptoms, or both conditions at once.
In many cases, patients who experience co-occurring conditions need to sort out which condition to treat first. Often, mental health professionals will start with the symptoms of ADHD - to lessen stress, anxiety, etc., and see if that helps with the other symptoms the patient is experiencing. No matter what, diagnosis needs to come from a mental health professional - and sometimes, multiple diagnoses are necessary to sort through everything going on in your head. But don’t worry! You aren’t alone, and there are plenty of people dealing with symptoms of ADHD and managing those symptoms every day! Take time to find the right mental health professional to help with your diagnosis, and get your ADHD journey on track!