I NEED ATTENTION!

(5 minute read)

So I have recently been diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While this was a bit of a shock to me, the reaction from a lot of family and friends has been either “Ahhh! It all makes sense…” or “Oh! I just assumed you knew!?!”

(…pause for laughter…) 

Truthfully, there have been times over the years when I thought maybe I do have ADHD, so it wasn’t that much of a shock. But at the same time, nobody thinks the kid who can get A’s and B’s in class might have a learning difficulty, when he gets an F. It’s more likely that he was lazy or didn’t work hard enough. However, this year I have worked harder than ever before but I have still been struggling. So it finally clicked and I got help. Now, while I still have lots to learn and figure out, I just thought I would share some interesting tidbits that I have picked up so far.

People with ADHD don’t actually have a deficit of attention, but rather difficulty focusing attention, as they are usually taking in everything around them simultaneously but have difficulty filtering out the unimportant things. However, an ability to focus attention is only useful when the important information is clearly labelled, such as in a class or a business meeting. In other situations, an ability to absorb everything at once can actually be beneficial, like in chaotic emergency situations. As a result, some psychiatrists and clinical psychologists have noticed a pattern that people with ADHD are often drawn to emergency work either as firefighters, paramedics or emergency doctors (or emergency vets!). They think this is because it provides the stimulation they need but they also excel as they are able to capture lots of information simultaneously, which they can then use to come up with creative solutions.

(Honos-Webb 2008)

ADHD is a lifelong condition. It is estimated that 3-5% of children have ADHD but as we grow up, we often develop coping strategies (some good, some bad) so the symptoms become less obvious. Even still, it is estimated that about two thirds of children will still have significant impairment into adulthood. Recent studies show that about 2.8% of adults across 20 countries have ADHD. The condition is also not just about sitting still and paying attention. People with ADHD face challenges with inattention, hyperfocus (like me writing this when I should be doing other stuff!), hyperactivity, impulsivity, emotional regulation and sleep impairment. These challenges can lead to major difficulties in life, such as relationship problems, academic failure, frequent job changes, financial problems, addiction and even legal and criminal problems. This in turn can lead to a number of mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

(Kooij et al. 2019)

There are biochemical differences in the brains of people with ADHD. The major difference is how their brain uses dopamine and norepinephrine (two of the signalling molecules in the brain a.k.a. neurotransmitters). The most significantly affected part of the brain is the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain where a lot of important decisions are made (Sharma & Couture 2014). When these areas of the brain are scanned, differences can also be seen in people with ADHD when compared to the rest of the population (Kooij et al. 2019). And while we know a lot about ADHD today compared to twenty or thirty years ago, doctors, neurobiologists and psychologists say that we still have a lot to learn.

That’s all from me for now but if you have any concerns about your mental health, relating to ADHD or any mental health issue, I encourage you to speak to your doctor. There are also national support services in many countries. Below is a select list of those support services.

ADHD supportMental health and suicide crisis support
Australiahttps://www.adhdaustralia.org.au/Lifeline 
https://www.lifeline.org.au/ 
13 11 14
Beyond Blue
https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
1300 22 4636
Canadahttps://caddac.ca/adhd/Crisis Services Canada
1 833 456 4566
https://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/en/ 
Irelandhttps://adhdireland.ie/Aware
1800 80 48 48
https://www.aware.ie/ 
New Zealandhttps://www.adhd.org.nz/Lifeline
0800 543 354
https://www.lifeline.org.nz/ 
United Kingdomhttps://www.adhdfoundation.org.uk/Samaritans
116 123
https://www.samaritans.org/ 
USAhttps://chadd.org/The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1800 273 8255
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 
The Trevor Project (LGBTQI+)
1866 488 7386
https://www.thetrevorproject.org/
Western Australiahttps://www.adhdwa.org/Lifeline
https://www.lifeline.org.au/ 
13 11 14
Beyond Blue
https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
1300 22 4636

List of Suicide Crisis Lines Worldwide: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines

Online ADHD magazine: https://www.additudemag.com/

References:

Honos-Webb, L. (2008). The gift of adult ADD: How to transform your challenges and build on your strengths. New Harbinger Publications.

Kooij, J. J. S., Bijlenga, D., Salerno, L., Jaeschke, R., Bitter, I., Balazs, J., … & Stes, S. (2019). Updated European Consensus Statement on diagnosis and treatment of adult ADHD. European psychiatry, 56(1), 14-34.

Sharma, A., & Couture, J. (2014). A review of the pathophysiology, etiology, and treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Annals of Pharmacotherapy, 48(2), 209-225.

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