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.
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?