Breaking down the myths.

Stereotypes around mental illness can not only alienate those who live with illness, but also spread false information that can prevent people from reaching out and getting the help they need.

This is especially true of ADHD. As a third year student, Jane*, can attest, the stereotypes were the reason she delayed seeking help for her illness: “I honestly just thought I was lazy and a procrastinator because I never knew that ADHD could be like this. I always thought it was the kids who were hyperactive and throwing stuff.”

According to the most recent global statistics, ADHD affects 3.4% of the adult population, and 5.29-7.1% of children.

Because statistics show a greater number of kids with ADHD, the disorder is often misrepresented as a problem that only affects young children. Jane said, “there’s a lot of people who go undiagnosed because we’re only taught about the hyperactive kids and the classic ADHD cases. Inattentive ADHD often goes unnoticed and is just seen as lazy, procrastinating.”

Inattentive ADHD is often mistaken as anxiety or mood disorders in adults, because it often takes the form of procrastination, forgetfulness, or distractibility. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of inattentive ADHD are less likely to be recognized by family, peers, and medical professionals than the other two types: Hyperactive and Combination. Consequently, many people struggle for years before finally getting the treatment they need.

“Whenever I had… tried to talk to people about it, the response was always ‘everybody has that, everybody has problems focusing,’” explained Jane. “When someone like me seeks help, most people have the response ‘there’s no way you have that,’ because they don’t understand that ADHD can present itself in [that] way.”

This is where stereotyping mental illnesses can be particularly harmful to those afflicted. If an individual’s symptoms do not match those of what is stereotypically recognized as ADHD, then the individual will be less likely to seek the treatment they need.

The realities of ADHD in day-to-day life are much different than what many believe them to be, and go beyond simply being unable to focus.

“I have all of the hallmark ADHD symptoms” explained fourth year student, Sara* “ it means that I have quite a few mood swings. I’m chronically late. My work is chronically late. I have poor time management and organisation. I can get really easily overwhelmed by little things.”

As is common in the cases of many people with ADHD, Sara was misdiagnosed: “It was manifesting in my second and third year as anxiety… which is what I was being treated for.”

Some of Sara’s symptoms did closely mirror those of an anxiety disorder. Sara explained, “I was anxious about random things like accepting e-transfers. I would let them sit there until they expired.”

Sara also experienced anxiety about going to the grocery store, and couldn’t go shopping without being on the phone with a friend. However, her daily struggle went beyond what those with anxiety experience, especially when it came to school work.

Sara said, “the prospect of studying was overwhelming. It wasn’t like the courses were too hard, it was just the idea of studying was really hard.”

Even getting ready for school was a challenge. “I’d go [into the bathroom] with the purpose: I’m going to brush my teeth, and I’d end sitting there on the bathroom floor trimming my finger nails, pulling random stray hairs. I can sit there… and think ‘I need to be doing other things right now!’ But I couldn’t pull myself away.”

Once she was correctly diagnosed with ADHD and treated with medication, her whole life changed. “All kinds of things I didn’t realize were hard for me became easy,” said Sara.

Sara also didn’t think she had ADHD, as she didn’t see stereotypical symptoms of ADHD in herself. Sara voiced that she was a really calm child and was never hyperactive.

Fortunately, both Jane and Sara were able to successfully seek out treatment for ADHD once they realized that their anxiety treatments were not working.

If you think you may have a mental illness, reach out to Health and Wellness in UNC 337 or talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

* names changed for the privacy of individuals.