Overcoming Naysayers

Have you ever been told to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and "forget this ADHD garbage"? An expert responds to naysayers of ADHD.

If someone can bootstrap his way out of a situation, I think that’s great.

Some people with diseases such as hypertension and diabetes can do just that. By making changes in lifestyle, exercise, diet and attitude, patients can sometimes reverse these conditions. But not everyone can.

As many lifestyle changes as some people make, and no matter how hard they may try, there will still be many who need insulin for their diabetes and anti-hypertensive medication for their blood pressure. We should offer them our support, not blame them for their failure to “fix” themselves.

The same goes for ADHD.

Unfortunately, when it comes to ADHD, depression and many other psychiatric and neurological conditions, a different attitude creeps in: the belief that disorders originating in the brain are a reflection of “bad character,” and that all it takes is better “willpower” to overcome them.

As a psychiatrist and also as the father of an ADHD child, I know personally how destructive this view is. Many severely depressed patients suffer for years because they’ve tried to make themselves feel better and they still can’t function. Co-workers and spouses become frustrated and blameful when attempts to “jolly” a person out of a depression don’t work. Their lack of understanding adds guilt and shame to the long list of problems that depressed people must cope with.

My son could not simply pull himself up by his bootstraps. That approach didn’t work. And had we stopped right there, his life would have been marked by frustration and failure. Without proper medical, psychological and educational interventions, no amount of willpower would have helped. Fortunately, these continued interventions have enabled our son to shape his own destiny and experience many successes. Challenges remain, but he’ll need our support — not our demands — to overcome them.

We don’t want our son to experience the same fate as earlier generations of ADHD kids who didn’t have the benefits of increased knowledge and better science. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is as American as apple pie, but so are compassion, tolerance, and wisdom.

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