Four to five percent (4-5%) of the adult population of America has ADHD. Even using the conservative figure, that's 12.4 million people - 50% more than everyone in New York City and twice the population of Switzerland. And yet, this rather large group is remarkable mostly for the fact that it goes unnoticed. This, in a country, where any 10 people with Internet access can form a Tea Party (or launch a conspiracy).
If all these people were living in bliss, then their silence would be not be much of a concern. But that's not the case. Millions suffer through lives of missed expectations and unnoticed despair. Meanwhile medication and proven behavioral therapies already exist that can radically improve their quality of life. So why is there is no dialog, no conversation, no attempt to alleviate the misery? A truly comprehensive answer would require more than a blog post, but in a few short paragraphs, it's easy to explore the three major causes - ignorance, stigma and despair.
The reality is that most most adults with ADHD don't know that they have the condition. That may sound strange until you realize that so many relevant professionals - educators, doctors and therapists - are not particularly knowledgeable about what is actually a common disorder. Teachers confuse school-specific compensatory skills with outgrowing the condition; medical professionals (including pediatricians) often have little or no training; and many psychologists recognize the secondary outcomes of ADHD - e.g., depression - but not the root cause. There are many prominent exceptions to this rule, but overall, the people who should know better simply don't.
Being termed ADHD may be worse for your life than lack of diagnosis. All things being equal, the guy/gal with ADHD is the one who does not get promoted; and once you're associate with a behavioral disorder, you can be damned certain that no one will ever look at you the same way again. If that's not bad enough, there's the stigma that comes with medical treatment. People who benefit from medication often stop taking it; they think that they are "dependent" and that as "good" people they should be able to do without. Effectively, they feel shamed by the pills. This doesn't resonate with me personally: I benefit greatly from Vyvanse, an amphetamine made by Shire Pharmaceutical that I take daily. Nevertheless, the desire to be "normal" makes perfect sense to me.
ADHD often causes people to drop out of schools, jobs, relationships, families and communities. When that happens, self-medication (illicit drugs), gambling, high risk social behaviors (like screwing around) all start to seem like easy solace. From there, it's easy enough to fall into the sort of deep, dark holes in which you find yourself cut-off and alone. It's hard to be heard from the depths of a pit.
Naturally, there is public ADHD dialog: you hear a lot about kids. Adults, however, get short shrift. Thus, ignorance, stigma and despair persist. Potentially fulfilling lives get wasted. Education won't solve all of this, but it will help. That's why we need a bullhorn: it's about time we got ourselves heard.
Michael B. Laskoff
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