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The ADHD March on Stigma

We all need get out from under the dark hood of shame and stigma that have held us back for millennia, and celebrate the heroes and heroines of ADHD. Meet them here.

Earlier this year, I attended the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) convention in New Orleans, the city where I attended medical school — one of my favorites in the world.

The convention was largely conducted by the medical director of NAMI, Ken Duckworth, M.D., whom I’ve known since he was a resident at Massachusetts Mental Health Center. He gives everything he has to this organization, in part because his father had bipolar disorder and also because he feels devoted to the needs of the chronically mentally ill. In my estimation, he is a national hero.

Watching Ken work 16- to 24-hour days during the convention — some people call it the Ken-vention — made me think of how much dedication it takes — unpaid time, heart time, stay-awake-at-night time — to serve a cause that not many people know or care much about.

Over the years, NAMI has grown — about 2,000 people came to this year’s Ken-vention — which is great. Every state has its own membership, but it is still a small, low-funded organization compared to the number of people touched by mental illness.

In many ways, Ken is a lot like the people who are trying to promote the cause of ADHD.

[Free Download: Yes! There are People Like You]

I remember back in 1992 driving out to Greenfield, Massachusetts, to meet with Sandy Thomas, who had recently started CHADD along with Harvey Parker. I remember sitting in her study, surrounded by books on learning disabilities and ADD (that’s what it was called in 1992).

Sandy was about the kindest, smartest woman you could imagine. Her husband was an ER doc if I remember right. She told me about the enormous amount of work it took to make an organization like CHADD run, but that she was committed to doing it because the need was so great and because her son had ADD.

I had made the two-hour drive to Greenfield because I wanted to ask Sandy about the current books on ADD and if she thought there was room for one more. “Well, there’s always room for a book if it’s a good book,” she said.

“I don’t know if mine will be good or not, because I haven’t written it yet. I’ll do my best to make it good. How about that?” I said.

“That’s all you can do,” Sandy said.

[Free Download: Ten Books You Need to Read (and Pass On)]

Driving home, I remember thinking this: If that woman in that little study can work that hard for nothing, I better do my best to produce a book that’s worth something. And so Driven to Distraction was born.

It is the Ken Duckworths and the Sandy Thomases of the world that keep the cause of mental health alive. Mental health is a low priority item as far as politicians are concerned. We who care matter a lot to the people to whom we matter, but we have trouble getting organized. We depend upon the Ken Duckworths and Sandy Thomases, and, I might add, the people who edit and publish this magazine.

Thanks to Ken and Sandy, thanks to the people who do not get recognition who run the state offices of NAMI and of CHADD, thanks to the people who staff the halfway houses for people like Ken’s dad (and my dad, who also had bi-polar disorder), we are slowly, gradually gaining strength in numbers and knowledge as we march toward a better day.

The marchers are also the readers of this web site. Each of you ends up here not to find a better recipe or a new garden layout or a sharper financial plan but because you are one step short of desperate on how to help your child, your self, your life. You are part of the growing team working hard toward a better life.

Each of us needs to pick up and join the effort. Each of us needs to intervene and check in when someone we know seems depressed. We need to speak up when someone makes a caustic remark about “the crazies” or “the sickos.” We need to acknowledge our own issues without shame or embarrassment, as I’ve done in talking about my own ADHD and dyslexia — and in talking about my family’s mental illness in my newest book.

We need to join the growing movement to celebrate mental diversity, celebrate the full range of what the human mind can do. We need get out from under the dark hood of shame and stigma that have held us back for millennia.

Let’s give Ken and Sandy and all of humankind a hand.

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