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There Is No Race to Raise ADHD Awareness, but There Should Be

Living with ADHD leads to some pretty dismal outcomes — car crashes, anxiety, early death. So why is our research funding so paltry and ADHD awareness so lacking? In part because we don’t talk about ADHD nearly enough. And we deserve better.

It’s October, and we all know what that means: It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Breast cancer affects one in eight women over the course of her lifetime. The race to find a cure is desperately important. We should all wear pink. We should all band together. At the same time, my son and I would like to ask you to do something else this October: Turn it orange.

Orange is the color of ADHD Awareness. That’s our ribbon. That’s our awareness. Unlike patients diagnosed with breast cancer, we don’t have any marches, or races for the cure, or Nike ads. Neurodiversity is icky and complicated; we don’t talk about it, and that is a big problem.

Yes, breast cancer has a far higher mortality rate than does ADHD. But the social stigma around ADHD is almost universally crippling. Children with ADHD are labeled as “bad kids,” and many suffer bullying. Girls with ADHD develop anxiety and depression from hiding their intense feelings, their crippling social phobias, and their inability to conform to neurotypical norms.

Adults don’t escape the stigma, either. They are often seen as faking the disorder in order to get stimulant medication. Our outcomes are distressing. We’re 50% more likely than neurotypicals to be involved in a serious car crash, 50% more likely to suffer an anxiety disorder, and three times more likely to be dead by the age of 40.

[31 ADHD Myths in 31 Days — Debunked!]

Then there are the terrifying statistics for women. One third of women with ADHD have comorbid anxiety disorders. Of those, half have contemplated suicide. Women with ADHD are 5.6 times more likely to develop bulimia, and 2.7 times more likely to develop other eating disorders. Living with ADHD is a constant uphill battle.

I’m not saying that breast cancer deserves less awareness. I just believe that we, too, deserve a chance in the spotlight. We, too, deserve a chance to be noticed. We, too, deserve some research funds. Did you know we have no idea what causes ADHD? We don’t know if it’s genetic — though it seems to have a genetic component — if it’s epigenetic, if it’s caused by something environmental, if it’s always turned on by trauma, or if it can be all of the above.

New drugs are always coming on the market, but it can be a shot in the dark to find the right medication for the right person at the right stage of their life (ask any mother who’s tried desperately to find out which med works for her child). We’re just discovering the emotional side of ADHD, and many reputable psychiatrists out there are still unaware of terms like “rejection sensitive dysphoria.”

Basically, we deserve a chance to be noticed. We deserve a chance to be seen. We know that neurodiversity is messy and inconvenient. But we deserve space. We deserve grace. We deserve a chance to raise awareness — that we need accommodations, that ADHD isn’t just a kids’ problem, and that we need help in order to function in neurotypical society. Breast cancer has its time, and it’s well deserved. When will we have ours?

[Free Download: Your ADHD Awareness Month Toolkit]

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  1. From my experience, I realized that unless you live with ADHD, it doesn’t exist. Even with my family, where I’m currently the only one diagnosed with ADHD, its seen more as an excuse than a disability. And its worse when it comes to the community in general, where unless they know me well, they are quick to criticize me. I won’t lie, I just wish in my home country of Kenya, it was taken more seriously, instead of just a “thing”. Then more people, myself included, wouldn’t be so terrified of accepting our diagnosis instead of running away from it

  2. This speaks in masses to me. My youngest boy is soon 8yrs old and was diagnosed with ADHD at 6 and a half years old. His first one and a half years of primary school were awful. He missed out on special days at school, missed out on making friends and was even suspended in his first year on schooling. I was devastated for him and didn’t know how to help him. We found a great paediatrician and once he was diagnosed and treatment started, our boy began to flourish and make friends, follow rules and complete more schoolwork and is now on par with his peers. He was known as “the naughty boy” in his first year of school and now not only is the teacher who gave him that label eating her words but the kids who couldn’t be around him as he was so full on, are now good friends with him. There needs to be more awareness, he needs to not be afraid to be himself on weekends and school holidays when he doesn’t take his meds. Not have people staring and tutting at him for “misbehaving”. I wouldn’t have my boy any other way. He’s shown me how to stop and notice the smaller things and to just laugh and cuddle and life will be perfect.

  3. I can understand the uneducated population making judgements and jumping to conclusions about ADHD because they haven’t lived with the frustrations of this conditions so it’s hard to”get it”. What I find infuriating is the plethora of supposedly educated “mental health experts” who show no understanding of the condition and have no compassion about it. I get lost easily, and no matter how early I start my preparations to leave the house, somehow I always manage to either get lost or find myself racing to appointments because somehow time has gotten away from me again. I was late for an appointment with one of these so called mental health experts and was told by the receptionist that if I had called, she might have been able to do something to help me. I had gone to the wrong building and had I not gotten lost, I’d have been on time. When I am lost,having an anxiety/hysterical fit because of it, the LAST thing I am able to do is stop and think. When I asked if I child be worked in so I could get my scripts because I was almost out of meds I was told no and given an appointment three months out.When I called the patient liaison about my experience, she casually relied,”Well, if it gets bad enough, you can always check yourself into the hospital.” This is the quality of mental health care in our country today. They make the mistake of thinking because we have a mental disorder that we are crazy and can be treated badly and dismissed. I very often have to get into these people’s faces and tell them, “Even if you think I’m crazy, I’m not stupid. Do NOT mistake one for the other. Crazy but smart people can hire lawyers and sue people like you for incompetence.”

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