Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is a time to raise awareness, share healthful strategies, and counter the stigma around mental health challenges. Here at Frida, we also see this as an opportunity to acknowledge the challenges and strengths experienced in our ADHD community and share how the face of ADHD is changing every day. 

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    For many people, especially adult women, getting a diagnosis for ADHD can be a major obstacle. Even though rates of ADHD are similar among all genders in adulthood, research has shown that boys get diagnosed at a rate of 3 to 1 compared to girls, meaning around 66% of females with ADHD don’t get a diagnosis. It is also more common for ADHD symptoms in adult women to be attributed to co-occurring conditions like depression or anxiety.

    Frida was developed specifically to meet these challenges by providing accessible, specialized diagnosis and care for people of all genders living with ADHD. One of the greatest strengths of Frida is that it was built by people who deeply understand the lived experience of navigating life with a neurodivergent mind. From our clinicians to some of our founders, so many staff members at Frida live with ADHD.

    You Aren’t Broken

    For us, having ADHD does not mean you are defective and need to be fixed. Instead, we understand that you are wired differently and many of the challenges and hardships you face due to ADHD are from living life in a world that wasn't designed with you in mind. As such, treatment with Frida comes with an added sense of compassion, empowerment and advocacy. As we work every day to more deeply understand neurodivergent needs, for ourselves and others, we are more able to foster better relationships and find ways to thrive in our work and personal lives. 

    This year’s Mental Health Awareness month theme is “My Story.” Frida will be exploring and sharing stories from our staff and members of our community to help us gain awareness and shared understanding of how ADHD impacts each and every one of us in a different way. 

    For now, let’s take a look at some common ADHD misconceptions, how to know when it’s time to seek resources for ADHD, and how to best support the people we know who live with ADHD. 

    What are some of the top, most common misperceptions about ADHD?

    There are numerous misperceptions about ADHD. Some are due to the name of the disorder itself, others due to general public misperception, and a great deal of misperceptions come from the fact that 70-90% of the data on ADHD comes from studies of male children. Here are some of the most common misperceptions about ADHD today:

    1. It’s not a real disorder: Given that a lot of the lived challenges of ADHD are invisible or misunderstood, it’s all too common for people to minimize the daily struggles associated with ADHD. Despite the fact that there are multiple studies on ADHD demonstrating real structural brain differences, and a 74% heritability rate, it can still feel like a challenge to feel validated as a person living with these difficulties everyday.

    2. ADHD mostly just occurs in boys: ADHD has only really been recognized in girls and women over the past few decades. As such, even healthcare professionals often have a bias towards ADHD being a “boy disorder.” For females, ADHD has been very underdiagnosed in childhood and much of our understanding of the disorder is based on research using boys. As we begin to better understand how ADHD impacts all genders and ages, there is hope that this misperception will continue to fade and all people affected by ADHD will feel seen and heard.

    3. ADHD is a childhood disorder that you can outgrow: Given that ADHD is generally diagnosed in childhood due to the obvious disruptions it causes in school, it has long been associated as being a childhood disorder. Current research shows that ADHD is indeed a lifelong disorder with some studies showing 77% of children continuing to have a diagnosis in adulthood. Adult ADHD can look quite a bit different from childhood ADHD due to differences in a developing brain and coping mechanisms that form over the years. However, the daily struggles are often of similar magnitude. There is also recent research examining the possibility of adult-onset ADHD, but current diagnostic standards require symptoms being present before the age of 12. 

    4. ADHD medications are overprescribed: There has been a noticeable worldwide increase in prescriptions of medications used to treat ADHD. However, this increase has correlated directly with underdiagnosed people finally gaining access to treatment. The pandemic brought many people to seek help after coping mechanisms like exercise and other activities were shut down, bringing symptoms to the brink. There has also been an increased spread of awareness of the lived experience of ADHD due to social media platforms like Tik Tok. More work is needed to better understand the actual rates of ADHD diagnosis and treatment in the population, but the latest studies suggest there is no current evidence of an overprescription problem

    5. People with ADHD can’t pay attention: This misperception of ADHD often leads people to believe that if you are able to pay attention to something you don’t have ADHD.  As anyone living with ADHD can attest, it’s a lot more complicated than that. The name of the disorder itself doesn’t really help with this myth either. ADHD is not an inability to pay attention,it involves difficulties with directing attention. Some tasks can even induce hyperfocus, an intense almost trance-like state of focus. However, many day-to-day tasks are very difficult for the ADHD brain to remain engaged with and issues like distractibility can derail even the most valiant efforts to sustain attention. These struggles with directing attention can feel like a constant battle and quite often leave people with ADHD totally exhausted, especially after a busy day at work or school. This unseen mental exhaustion is one of the more challenging aspects of the disorder in adulthood.

    As people of diverse backgrounds living with ADHD step forward, we are continuing to gain a better understanding of this complex neurobiological disorder. The scientific community is aware that more work is needed to understand the impact of ADHD on all genders and all ages, which should result in better studies and maybe even more accurate diagnostic criteria. Change does take time, but Frida is here to advocate for you every step along the way. It is important that we continue to talk about the lived experience of ADHD in order to help people connect, reduce feelings of shame, and share strategies for navigating our world. 

    How do we identify the areas we may need support in, if we have ADHD?

    Understanding how to identify and seek support in your own life can be challenging, especially if you are newly diagnosed with ADHD. As a general rule, if your symptoms are having a significant impact on any area of functioning at work/school, your social life, or within your family — it’s considered clinically significant. You can speak to a healthcare professional further about how to manage and assess these impacts. 

    Although ADHD is unique to each person, there are some common areas where support is often needed:

    • Relationships: ADHD can lead to many challenges in maintaining relationships. From struggling with object permanence (out of sight, out of mind) to accidentally blurting out exactly what you are thinking, or even riding an emotional roller coaster — relationships can take a hit from all directions. Although gifting a craft du jour or texting lengthy apology videos can help keep things afloat, there are more effective ways to seek support with your relationships. In addition to having open conversations with your loved ones and even sharing resources, you can also get help for relationships challenges through support such as therapy. Whether it’s role playing, problem solving, or simply exploring new ways to reframe your thinking patterns and reactions — seeking out professional support for your relationships can have a major positive impact on your life.

    • Work and School: If your ADHD is having a major impact on your performance at work or school, you may want to consider support. Missed deadlines, burnout, and feeling overwhelmed are all common symptoms that your ADHD is overshadowing your ability to do your job. There are numerous avenues to explore when it comes to getting support. Many people with ADHD find it helpful to seek out disability accommodations, get coaching, or seek therapy. You can also try speaking directly with your supervisor or manager about the challenges you face and provide them with reading material (like this article). Quite often, the pressure you may put on yourself to succeed is unrealistic and extremely heavy to carry, it can help a great deal to reach out for support. 

    • Internal well-being: How long has it been since you checked in with yourself? It’s common for people with ADHD to sprint through each day without coming up for air. This way of living fulfills that constant need for stimulation, but often leaves little time for self-care. If you haven’t checked in on yourself in a long time or you’ve checked in and things aren’t looking so great, it’s time to come up for air. Seeking support to help you breathe better can look like a number of different things. You may enlist a friend as an accountability partner for self-care, join a class you’ve always wanted to do, do group therapy, schedule “me time,” or book an appointment with a coach or therapist. You deserve self-care! 

    If you live with ADHD and you aren’t quite sure if you need support, you can always talk about it with a loved one or chat with your healthcare provider. ADHD care providers like Frida can help you navigate your support options and get the care you need. 

    How do we best support those with ADHD?

    Whether you live, work, or spend time with someone who has ADHD it can mean a lot to them when you show your support. Most people with ADHD have grown accustomed to living a life with excessive criticism and even rejection, which can lead to many painful feelings. In addition to learning more about the lived experience of ADHD, you can use these tips to help show that you are an ally and a friend. 

    • Notice the Good Stuff: People with ADHD are already a little too skilled at self-criticism, which can lead to a constant stream of negative self-talk. You can help break this cycle by making an effort to point out their strengths. Whether it's creativity, work ethic, or some other quality you value — make a point to share why you appreciate them in your life. 

    • Ask questions: There is a ton of misinformation out there about ADHD and everyone’s lived experience is unique. Try asking the person with ADHD in your life what different experiences are like for them. Dig into their challenges and thoughts. This will not only help you gain more compassion for their challenges, you’ll also get neat insight into life in a neurodivergent brain. 

    • Help with routine: Routine is a major challenge with ADHD but it can be so helpful for thriving in daily life. If it fits the boundaries of your relationship, you can try helping someone build a routine and remain accountable, which can help relieve a massive amount of anxiety. You could assist with a goal schedule for completing a specific task, a daily chore schedule, or even weekly routines like laundry or even showers (they can get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list). Focusing on achievable smaller steps can be a life saver. Using tools like a wall calendar or dry erase board can create excellent visual cues.

    • Make their life easier: If you live or work with someone with ADHD there will be particular tasks and challenges that create a lot of anxiety and stress and others they take on with ease. You can discuss ways to fairly split up tasks in a practical way that leans into their strengths without overwhelming their weaknesses. 

    • Be an accountability partner: Whether it’s for a new routine, scheduled self-care or any area your person is struggling with — offering accountability checks can be a major help for someone with ADHD. It helps them get back on track and can minimize the negative impact of side quest and ADHD paralysis. Sometimes, it might also help to be an accountability buddy who simply offers a welcomed distraction like a smoothie break, walk in the park or other fun adventure to help reset. These distractions can be especially helpful during periods of hyperfocus when things like drinking water and eating get sacrificed for doing an activity. 

    • Be an ally: Learn more about what ADHD actually is and how it impacts this person you care about. You can also take note of the language you use to describe them and how certain labels can be especially hurtful. If you aren’t sure, it’s always a great idea to ask! Everyone deserves to feel loved and respected and if we can help lift a little shame off of someone’s shoulders there are only benefits to gain. 

    During this mental health awareness month, our goal is to shine a spotlight on the unique challenges and strengths associated with ADHD. We are so proud to be a part of this beautiful and diverse community and we look forward to continuing to learn together.

    If you think you might have ADHD and are interested in getting a diagnosis, you can try Frida’s self-assessment tool. If you’d like to learn more about ADHD, check out our educational library. Thanks for being here, we appreciate you.

    Lisa Batten, PhD, CPT, PN1

    Lisa Batten is a clinical scientist, therapist, and writer specializing in neuroscience and clinical pharmacology. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology.