BY JASON MOTA
With so much happening in the world of stress-related mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, it’s easy to forget about the other conditions that don’t fall into that category – the ones that are quiet in comparison. But they’re still as present as they’ve always been.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorder that causes extreme difficulty focusing, a lack of impulse control, and, depending on the type of ADHD, hyperactivity. The cause of ADHD is unknown, but there are a lot of theories about it being genetic. ADHD always rears its head at a very young age, and a diagnosis can only be made if it appears before the age of 12.
According to Kitchener pediatrician Dr. Jodi Rosner, there are two types of ADHD according to the current terminology: inattentive and combined. Inattentive ADHD includes only the lack of ability to focus and pay attention, while combined ADHD is a combination of the inattentiveness and hyperactivity. The old terminology split them up into ADD and ADHD.
It is not considered to be a mental illness like anxiety, depression or schizophrenia, because there is no evidence that ADHD can be caused by stress or trauma like the aforementioned conditions can.
But it’s still around, and it still makes life difficult for people who suffer from it. Take the case of Parker Semple, an 11-year-old boy in Guelph. Semple is an ADHD sufferer. He was diagnosed in the third grade, but his mother, Candice Ferguson, noticed a difference in his behaviour from other kids when he was just 18 months old. According to Ferguson, he didn’t respond to discipline like other kids, and was very temperamental.
“I tried using time-outs with him since that’s what everyone kept telling me to do. I would have to literally pin him down on the bottom step to get him to stay there,” said Ferguson. “He would laugh right in my face when he knew he was making me angry, as if it gave him pleasure.” When Semple started school, he struggled from day one.
“All of his report cards would have comments about how Parker struggled to pay attention in class,” said Ferguson. “By the time he was in grade three he started to have episodes in class like crawling under a desk and pulling chairs all around him like a barricade.
“That was the year I took him to the pediatrician’s and got a referral to CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association). Based on information provided by myself, my mom and teachers, it was determined that he was attention deficit.”
It was also determined, through meetings with a psychiatrist, that he suffered from depression and anxiety, possibly stemming from his ADHD, and the stress it caused him. According to his mother, Semple’s behaviour has gotten increasingly difficult as he has gotten older.
“Last Mother’s Day weekend was spent in the hospital because he attempted to strangle himself with his hoodie at school,” said Ferguson. Semple is currently taking Zoloft, an antidepressant, Risperidone, an antipsychotic, and Adderall for the ADHD, but Ferguson said that finding the right dosage and combination of the medication is challenging. The days that he forgets to take his meds are not fun.
Dr. Rosner said, “I’ve been a part of the diabetic clinic for 15 years now and not one parent has ever asked, ever, the side effect of any of the medicines we give for diabetes, yet parents really struggle with the stigma and the social constraints with ADHD about giving a medication that will help their child be successful at school and ultimately put them on a great path to success in life.”
The medication, however, is what has had the most profound effect on Semple’s behaviour and success, according to Ferguson. She also said that the fact that his best friend suffers from ADHD too has helped him to not feel so alone, and also gives him someone to relate to. Ferguson does, however, worry about her son’s future, both in regards to his education and his relationships.
“He thinks he is stupid and foresees a life of crime for himself, which truly saddens me to hear him talk like that,” said Ferguson. Her worries are likely well placed, considering the difficulties Rosner says adults face compared to children.
“For children, the primary difficulty they face is in school … adults suffer different challenges in terms of being able to keep their job, keep their marriage, relationships,” she said.
But according to Rosner, it isn’t just ADHD that should be given more public attention. “All mental health illnesses are truthfully not given as much attention as they should be.”
But unlike children, who have access to numerous pediatricians and child psychiatrists who can focus on their specific mental condition and give them the best possible advice and treatment, adults who suffer from ADHD don’t have as many options.
“There’s very few people who are skilled and knowledgeable enough and willing to treat adults with ADHD,” said Rosner. “It’s a challenge.”
Rosner recalled a number of times when a child with ADHD has come into her office with parents, and she has noticed that one of the parents also has the same condition the child has. By law, she isn’t allowed to treat adults, but she tries to give them advice.
Rosner recommends that adults who suffer from ADHD and struggle to maintain their control over it should seek out a psychiatrist or counsellor who is knowledgeable at least about mental illnesses.
ADHD is not like stress-related mental illnesses, and it doesn’t reduce the mental age of people who have it, but since those, like Rosner, Ferguson and Semple, who experience it every single day can’t forget about it or push it aside, they surely would not want the rest of the world to do so.