The ADHD self-diagnosis "industry" offers a quick fix that doesn't exist (2023)

When Kim Raine received her ADHD diagnosis in 2021, she was overcome with mixed emotions. She pity, for the years she spent not knowing exactly why she felt different from others; all the times she lay awake at night with racing thoughts, suffered from mood swings, or worked all day and seemed to accomplish nothing. But there was also, she says, "a moment of enlightenment: a feeling that, at almost 50 years old, I finally understand myself."

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) rates in adults are skyrocketing - up to 80% in the past five years, with official figures showinga sharp increase in prescriptions among those over 40. According to the ADHD Foundation charity, there has been a 400% increase in the number of adults requesting an assessment through the organization since 2020, due in part to problems exacerbated byanxiety and lack of structure during confinement.

Earlier this month, former Great British Bake Off presenter Sue Perkins, 53, became the latest celebrity to reveal her own ADHD diagnosis, saying "suddenly it all made sense, to me and to everyone else." Love me." Others who spoke about it included Loose Women's host Nadia Sawalha, comedian Johnny Vegas and former football player Jermaine Pennant.

For many people, a diagnosis of the complex neurological condition that makes it difficult to concentrate, follow directions and control impulsive behavior can be life changing. Provide an explanation as to why they might be underperforming at work, for example, struggling with addictions or experiencing relationship issues.

For women,can be particularly enlightening. ADHD is sometimes called "naughty boy syndrome" because symptoms such as agitation are seen as stereotypically male; 10 times more boys than girls are diagnosed. Research suggests that many women are affected, but it often remains hidden because women are more adept at internalizing their confusion.

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“Women tend to be people pleasers and try harder to mask their concentration problems,” says Dr. Sally Cubbin, consultant psychiatrist at the Adult ADHD Clinic. "As a result, they are often misdiagnosed with anxiety and depression and don't receive the correct diagnosis or help until later."

The current focus of attention on ADHD has also generated an increasingly gray area: the self-diagnosis, whether through one of the thousands of online questionnaires, or identifying with the symptoms listed by the so-called influential ADHD in them social media. With the NHS waiting time for official diagnosis of up to seven years, and many private funds and providers closing waiting lists due to demand, it is perhaps unsurprising that many are looking elsewhere.

Amber Leach, 40, says she realized she had ADHD in 2021 after seeing businesspeople discussing her diagnoses on Facebook. “I thought, this is me,” says Amber, who runs marketing agency Established By Her. “My whole life, I've struggled to be still and focus. So I'm really focused on a few projects to the exclusion of everything else, and I stay up late to work on them because I have no sense of time."

Self-diagnosing and researching the condition online has helped her understand herself, she says, “and I'm trying to better balance my life, making sure I call friends and a night out with my husband so I don't neglect my relationships. when I'm in that hyperfocused state, but I don't think I need an official diagnosis."

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Others who self-diagnose may discover another consequence of the ADHD explosion. An entire industry has sprung up around the "management" of the condition. While psychiatrist-directed treatment often involves drugs like methylphenidate (known as Ritalin) in combination with cognitive-behavioral therapy, a quick Google offers a dizzying array of apps, online programs and training — all at a cost.

An annual subscription to a "support program" costs almost £300, while one app claims to "end ADHD", which is impossible as it's a lifelong condition. These programs promise to teach patients everything from how to regulate their emotions to how to become successful entrepreneurs, some in as little as five minutes every day.

There are even ADHD subscription boxes full of "dopamine-inducing" products supposedly designed to appeal to people with the condition, including fidgety toys, shiny stickers, and pens with slogans like "My brain is dying."

Of course, an online course can be more helpful than an influencer's TikTok video: Research published last year found that more than half of shared ADHD videos contained misinformation. But it's hard not to see the marketing of most of what's available as cynical at best and exploitative of vulnerable people at worst.

"Some people may benefit from some of these things, but others need medical treatment because ADHD is a serious condition," says Dr. Dinesh Bhugra, professor of mental health and cultural diversity at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London.

“My advice would be absolutely not to self-diagnose. There is a wide spectrum within ADHD, ranging from minimal symptoms to very severe symptoms. Medical professionals can advise on the best intervention, whether that be teaching coping strategies, offering medication or cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination."

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Kim, 49, a female mindset coach who lives in Frensham, Surrey, realized she probably had ADHD five years ago when some of her clients, including the global head of talent at a famous media company, began to be diagnosed. . Throughout her forties, a time when symptoms often become more pronounced for women due to declining estrogen, she noticed that the job was getting harder. “I thought, I've been at my desk, working, but nothing has been done,” she says.

Following her own diagnosis through Psychiatry UK under the NHS's right to choose scheme in late 2021, she sometimes takes medication but says: "The main benefit is having more compassion for myself." After training at the ADHD Coaching Academy, she is now a dedicated ADHD coach, helping women learn coping strategies, how to split tasks to avoid being overwhelmed.

Recently, he suspected a number of other trainers were also being renewed in the same way. “People who used to be business strategists or life coaches are suddenly ADHD experts,” she says.

She worries that not everyone has the same conscientious approach that she does. "I'm very aware that it's not my job to diagnose anyone," she says. “I always encourage customers to seek expert advice. Training can play an important role in helping people with ADHD, but they may also need medical treatment and therapy.”

Daniel*, 44, has spent over £1,000 on multiple online subscriptions after taking an online test suggesting he had ADHD during lockdown in early 2021. “I was feeling completely lost and hoping programs and apps would help but they were just one more. load of information that leaves me overwhelmed,” he says.

Eventually, he was diagnosed with depression and is on medication, which has helped. “I don't think I ever had ADHD, I was just looking for a label to understand how I felt,” he adds.

As pointed out by Dr. Bhugra, ADHD has become "in vogue". While raising awareness can help reduce stigma, he believes there is also a risk that “anyone who is disorganized or has poor concentration” will claim to have it. She adds that research suggests that labeling ourselves with a condition can lead us to behave as if we have it.

In some online communities, ADHD is talked about not as a potentially disabling condition, but as a "superpower" that infuses people with extraordinary abilities such as creativity and tenacity.

Amber avoids this term, but believes that ADHD is responsible for what she calls "superdrive". “I always had a lot of energy and ambition to make things happen and nothing was going to stop me,” she says. "I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have that motivation."

However, for many others, ADHD can be very debilitating. "I wouldn't say 'let's celebrate ADHD,' it's a very debilitating disorder," says Dr. Cubbin. “Statistically, you are more likely to have car accidents, teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, addictions and relationship breakups.

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“For most people, the only celebration when receiving a diagnosis is the relief of having an explanation and the option to seek treatment, which can make a big difference. The success rate of the medication, in particular, is very high.”

Kim urges people with ADHD to remember that if a product's promise sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “People with ADHD need to be very aware that their impulsiveness makes them more likely to spend money because they want to find a solution,” she says. "But anyone offering a quick fix doesn't understand the condition."

* Name has been changed

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