Talking to Friends and Loved Ones About ADHD
If you have ADHD, talking to friends and loved ones about your experience can help you be your authentic self and get the support you need. However, many people are under-informed about ADHD, which can make it hard for them to understand where you’re coming from. This guide covers common topics that come up when discussing ADHD with friends and loved ones, including straightforward points you can bring to your next conversation!
Table of contents
First: should you talk about your ADHD?
Getting a diagnosis of ADHD can feel like a massive weight has been lifted off of your shoulders. During the first few weeks of a diagnosis, you may find yourself wanting to shout it from the mountain tops. Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or you’re at a point in your journey where you feel more ready to share — this article will help prepare you for revealing your diagnosis and sharing information about ADHD.
There are some obvious benefits to talking about your lived experience with ADHD. Sharing your experience and challenges with people who care about you can feel extremely liberating, and better enable them to support you.
But you should think carefully before talking to others about mental health conditions such as ADHD, because:
They may be uninformed or have unjustified negative perceptions
They could tell other people who you don’t want to know
They might treat you differently in ways that aren’t helpful to you
It can be very helpful to start small with these discussions. You may want to begin with one particularly close friend or family member. Revealing personal mental health challenges can make you feel vulnerable, so it also helps to do it face-to-face and in a space where you feel safe and heard. Encourage your friend or family member to ask you questions and notice how the discussion makes you feel before, during and after.
Whether or not you decide to continue sharing information about your ADHD, it’s important to remember that your mental health is your business, and you’re in control of who you talk to about it and what you say.
Regardless of what you share, you might find yourself in a situation where you want to answer questions about ADHD. Next, we’ll cover some common topics that come up when discussing ADHD, giving you the full context along with some key points to use in conversations with friends and loved ones.
You can’t control if you have ADHD — it’s in your brain
One of the biggest challenges in explaining ADHD to others is helping them understand that the issues caused by ADHD — such as impulsivity, disorganization, procrastination, and emotional instability — are not simply personality traits, but symptoms of a neurodevelopmental disorder. Neurodevelopmental disorders impact how the brain develops and functions; other examples include learning disorders, speech disorders, cerebral palsy and autism.
For those that haven’t lived with ADHD or other neurological conditions it can be difficult to understand the idea that there is an invisible force preventing you from doing the things you want to do — the things you know you need to do. That’s why so many people with ADHD have experiences with people thinking that they are lazy, disinterested, or simply aren’t trying hard enough.
But people can’t control whether they have ADHD or not. There are clear differences in development, structure and function in an ADHD brain that more often than not present from birth.
ADHD is officially designated as a neurodevelopmental disorder within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (frequently referred to as the “DSM-5”), the reference book most frequently used by mental health providers in North America and worldwide. It’s a legitimate condition that deserves legitimate care.
Points to use in conversation
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder recognized by health authorities worldwide
ADHD is something that happens in your brain — you can’t control whether you have it or not
ADHD can cause many challenges in daily life, such as disorganization, impulsivity, a lack of productivity, and losing control over emotions
People with ADHD aren’t lazy or unmotivated — they’re struggling with symptoms of their condition
ADHD isn’t only in children, but it first appears in childhood
A common misunderstanding about ADHD — one once shared by the scientific community decades ago — is that it’s only prevalent in or affects children and doesn’t frequently carry into adulthood, which simply isn’t true.
What is true is that adults with ADHD almost certainly had it as children. While nobody knows the true cause of ADHD, research shows that ADHD has a heritability rate of 75 to 91%, indicating that genetics play a large role.
Even though people with ADHD typically display symptoms of ADHD since childhood, it often goes undiagnosed. This is particularly true for women: boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, and are diagnosed five years earlier than girls (age 7 versus age 12).
But you don’t have to be diagnosed in childhood for your ADHD to be legitimate. As a child, you’re surrounded by others you depend on to observe your behaviour and step in to help if something seems off. If the people around you as a child — such as parents or teachers — can’t recognize the signs of ADHD or don’t take action, it can go undiagnosed well into adulthood.
As an adult, you’re expected to be independent and manage your personal and professional lives, which can cause ADHD to become more disruptive to our lives than in childhood. This often leads adults to discover that they may have ADHD, and prompts them to seek a diagnosis and treatment. Ironically enough, many parents come to realize they have a diagnosis of ADHD after bringing their own children in for assessment.
Points to use in conversation
ADHD starts in childhood, but frequently carries on into adulthood
ADHD symptoms often go unnoticed in children, leading to a lack of diagnosis and treatment
Girls are diagnosed with ADHD much less frequently than boys
ADHD can become more challenging to live with in adulthood
Talking to someone who knew you as a child? They may be able to recall symptoms of ADHD you displayed in childhood, so try asking them about it!
With treatment, ADHD becomes easier to manage
There is no cure for ADHD, but there are proven methods for managing ADHD symptoms that make living with ADHD easier.
70-80% of adults with ADHD experience an improvement in symptoms when taking medication. The most common type of medication used to treat ADHD are stimulants, which are 70-80% effective in adults with ADHD. For people who can’t take or don’t respond well to stimulants, non-stimulant medications are also available for treating ADHD.
ADHD medications are a complicated topic, but you can learn more in our Complete Guide to ADHD Medications for Adults!
While medication is extremely helpful in managing ADHD symptoms, the most dramatic improvements are seen when medication is paired with behavioural changes and lifestyle improvements. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a type of therapy focused on changing negative thought patterns and achieving clear goals, can help greatly with this. Many people with ADHD find a subset of CBT called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to be especially helpful, as there is a focus on learning to navigate your challenges from a place of acceptance and compassion.
There are also many smaller changes you can make in your life that reduce the negative impact of ADHD, which you can read about in our 65 Tips and Tricks to Better Manage Adult ADHD (Without Meds).
Points to use in conversation
ADHD can’t be cured, but it can be treated effectively
Medication is proven to be effective in treating ADHD symptoms for the vast majority who take it
Changing habits and behaviour — including with the support of therapy — is also crucial in reducing the impact of ADHD symptoms
People around you can help
One of the benefits of talking to friends and loved ones in your life about your experience with ADHD is that it better equips them to support you in making positive changes in your life. For better or worse, it is helpful to identify who belongs in your ADHD support system.
Once you’ve helped people close to you understand ADHD, they can help you:
Manage household task like chores that ADHD may inhibit you from starting or completing
Buffer big emotions while you’re in the midst of an ADHD meltdown
Develop accountability systems for completing tasks on time — and help you complete them
Find relief and just be someone to confide in when things aren’t feeling great
When possible, be open with your friends and loved ones about how they can support you. If they’ve listened to you and accepted your ADHD with compassion, they’re likely happy to help!
Having close relationships in your life where you don’t feel the need to mask your ADHD symptoms, and where you can truly be yourself, can help you reduce the stress associated with ADHD and serve as a constant reminder that you’re not alone in this.