Last week, Ms. Allison Schuster wrote an article in the Collegian expressing concern over the increased diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and the supposed pandemic of misdiagnoses and prescriptions of medication to neurotypical students who do not actually have ADHD. Unfortunately, the article propagated several misconceptions about ADHD and diagnoses of mental health conditions in general.
While it is true that ADHD diagnoses have greatly increased over the past decade, there are several potential environmental explanations for it. Mental health awareness has grown rapidly in the 21st century. The internet has made information about disorders such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression highly accessible, which encourages people to seek out the opinion of a licensed professional — the only way to get a diagnosis and prescribed medication, according to a 2014 report by MedicalxPress.
The diagnosis of ADHD is also less restrictive than it used to be, due to its induction into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This resulted in an increase of adult diagnoses — more so than in children and adolescents.
Schuster also incorrectly claims parents are the driving force behind their children’s diagnoses. Assessments require extensive consultation with many adults in the children’s lives. Professionals start by observing the behavior and ruling out other possible sources so they have a complex profile for the child. The purpose of this process is to figure out what’s happening, not to look specifically for ADHD symptoms while ignoring everything else, according to reports from Psych Central. Self-reporting is, however, a major part of diagnostic testing, such as the BASC‑3 assessment.
Schuster’s concern about false diagnoses appears to center on students misusing prescriptions to to gain an edge in their schoolwork and standardized testing. But ADHD diagnoses and medical prescriptions help with far more than schoolwork. The mind of someone with ADHD is like a search engine with 25 tabs open, some of which are just spam and background music. Medication helps to close some of these tabs, allowing the person to focus on the task at hand. It also helps reduce hyperactive and impulsive behavior, enhancing social interaction by decreasing the perceived need to blurt things out.
While medication prescription does increase during the school year compared to the summer months, there are perfectly reasonable explanations to this besides parents wanting quick results for their children’s scholastic success. ADHD medication often has adverse side effects (such as loss of appetite), so it’s understandable that someone diagnosed with the condition would want to temporarily stay off of medication until need be.
School is already difficult for those with an executive functioning deficiency, but the unique social environment with a high amount of distracting stimuli makes for an incredibly challenging environment for a person with ADHD who has not been therapeutically or medically prepared to deal with it. Medication is an aid rather than a solution, and it is not merely meant to improve academic performance.
It is tempting to think that adults and college-aged people will misrepresent or overreport ADHD symptoms to get prescriptions and gain an edge, but the evidence from a 2013 Wilens & Spencer report shows that the opposite is true. This report states that because This is because ADHD is not perceived as an advantage, but rather something to be ashamed of. People don’t want to be known as “that weird ADHD kid” and suffer the social consequences of being seen as different or broken.
ADHD is a real and serious mental health concern, and if we focus on those who are faking it and misrepresenting it, we overlook or discount those who are genuinely struggling with the disorder until they fall behind to the point where it’s impossible not to take notice. As a society, we must educate ourselves about mental health and show compassion to those who struggle with it.
Jordan Nied is a junior studying psychology.