Today I came across something on social media that claimed that ADHD was a completely fake disorder that has been concocted by pharmaceutical companies. I’m almost inclined to agree except that I have encountered a few individuals that swear that they have it and swear that taking their ADHD meds is the difference between functioning and not functioning. However, I have to say that this situation is, by far, the exception rather than the rule. So how real or fake is the diagnosis of ADHD?
Years ago I watched a stand up comedian make a joke that kids don’t have ADHD. “They’re just paying attention,” he said. I think there might be something to this. Our kids live in a worlds where they are constantly bombarded by different things competing for their attention from all directions. It’s a busy world with a lot of flashing lights and screens that often work like an addictive slot machine with all the lights and bells. I think most of us find it difficult to slow down these days.
Is ADHD Over-diagnosed?
As a therapist, I honestly believe that ADHD is over-diagnosed. More than half of the teenagers that come through my office report that they have previously been diagnosed with ADHD. This mental health diagnosis, like all other mental health diagnosis’ are supposed to be given based on a set of specific criteria that has been identified in the DSM 5. All to often, these kids report that they had been given the diagnosis based on poor school performance or any degree of behavior problems in school. So, just like every other kid that gets this label, they are taken to the doctor and put on medication for it and to my everlasting surprise the school issues didn’t magically vanish.
Unfortunately, I sometimes find that ADHD is the default diagnosis for everything when a kid is struggling. Unfortunately, this is a diagnosis that gets handed down from people that don’t have any business handing it down. This includes teachers, school counselors, family doctors etc. I know people will perk up when I say family doctor but please keep reading, I will go into more detail soon.
The reason that ADHD is over-diagnosed is because unless a person really knows and understands the subtle differences, it’s misdiagnosed. The most common misdiagnosis, in my experience is anxiety. So many of our kids are anxious and are lacking the ability to identify it or cope with it. When people get anxious, they want to move, movement can bring instant relief to anxiety but if an anxious kid is trying to create movement to feel less anxious, they can quickly be slapped with a diagnosis of ADHD.
Good Therapy Instead of Medication
I truly wish people would seek a good qualified and experienced therapist before they took their kid to a doctor. Most of the time, a kid is taken in front of their primary care physician instead of a good psychiatrist or even qualified nurse practitioner with a psychiatric specialty. But the truth is that these types of prescribers are becoming quite rare, there’s a major shortage of them. Primary care doctors deal with everything from sinus infections to ingrown toenails and everything in between. Most of them are poorly qualified to properly diagnose and treat mental health disorders. A good experienced therapist can assign the proper diagnosis which is important in order to get the right treatment.
Most mental health disorders can improve with good therapy. What is good therapy? Well, if you ask me, it starts with a therapist that is experienced and qualified, someone who specializes in certain areas. There are therapists that are generalized like a family doctor and then there are therapists that are specialized. If you ask me, good therapy also teaches good skills and tools to first manage and then overcome various mental health issues. This is absolutely possible. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, ADHD, an eating disorder or autism, a specialized therapist can help individuals learn methods to manage and overcome these issues even without the need for medication.
Please, if you have a child or teen that is struggling with some kind of mental health or behavior issue, take them to a good therapist first. As a side note, problemed behaviors can be a symptom that a kid is having other issues that they need support with. They might be acting out because they are being picked on at school. But if a kid is being picked on at school and acts out because of it, it’s just not effective to put them on medication or find a way to punish them. Those things can actually make it worse.
What You Need to Know About ADHD Medication
Some people don’t realize that many ADHD medications like adderall or ritalin are heavy stimulants and are methamphetamine’s. Yes, the same type of methamphetamine’s that are cooked in old RV’s in the desert and sold on the street. That’s a slight exaggeration but these medications will cause a person to fail a drug test for meth. The reason I know this is because I worked with teens on probation for drug abuse, this was often the case; kids taking adderall would fail their drug test because they test positive for meth.
It’s because of this that these drugs, especially adderall, have high street value. I’ve encountered many teens who claim they are taking their adderall but they are actually taking it out of the home and selling it. This doesn’t always happen of course but I think it’s really important for parents to know the truth because they probably don’t want their kids taking these medications unless it’s really necessary. Kids are being diagnosed at young ages, even younger than ten years old and sometimes being put on these drugs.
In my experience, anxiety is the culprit, anxiety is the real problem. Wide spread anxiety is happening with the young and the old. Anxiety is far more common than ADHD and can be mistaken for it. Social anxiety is running rampant and social media isn’t helping. But the bottom line is that it’s important to get the right diagnosis because the diagnosis will determine the treatment. Good therapy can do a lot for depression and anxiety as well, even, for ADHD, if that is the correct diagnosis.
I want to really emphasize that most primary care doctors often lack the experience and expertise to provide the most accurate mental health diagnosis but this is especially true for teachers. In my experience, teachers can get caught up in handing out an ADHD diagnosis to kids who are more difficult to handle but there could be a dozen reason why a kid struggling at school. Anxiety is one of those reasons but maybe he/she is experiencing abuse at home. Maybe they are being bullied? There are a lot of reasons why kids act out, not just ADHD.
I believe that it needs to be said that many adults seem to have lost sight of what normal behavior is for kids and teens. It’s normal for kids and teens to what to move and be active. It’s normal for them to want to play, it’s normal for them to be restless when they’ve been sitting quietly for long periods of time. As I continue to work with suicidal teens that are struggling with depression and anxiety, I notice that so many of them lack physical movement. Physical movement, especially vigorous exercise is a great coping mechanism and a natural antidepressant. There is plenty of research that indicates that exercising releases feel good endorphins in the brain. I don’t think we should be surprised that teenagers are reluctant to get out and move as a way to cope when they were told to stay seated and hold still while remaining quiet when they were children lest they be labeled as a problemed child with ADHD.
But furthermore, it’s normal for kids to have problems and issues. It’s normal for them to have bad days. It’s normal for them to test limits and yes, it’s normal for them to struggle with sitting through long hours of school year after year. The cognitive dissonance in adults is sometimes quite puzzling because we were the exact same way. Most of us hated sitting through school and it would make more sense for us to understand that struggle instead of condemning it. I could go on and on about this but I think most of us would admit that it can get problematic if we are handing out a diagnosis and drugs in order to get more compliant children.
In an era with unprecedented high rates of suicide, it falls on us, the parents and adults, to make the necessary changes. If we don’t do it, it won’t happen. Here’s my call to action. Please start engaging in learning and please do things different. If you don’t know what those things are, seek a qualified professional. It is up to you to help make the necessary changes if we want to see our rates of teen suicide drop.
*Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I always appreciate parents who are looking for the right answers. I hope that you will subscribe to my articles and that you will also follow and support my non-profit organization The Resiliency Alliance which can be found on Facebook and at www.resiliencyalliance.org.