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Dear Editor,

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.