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ADHD Is A Mental Illness September 21, 2011

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Depression, mental illness.
Tags: , ,

It’s amazing how many people split hairs when it comes to having a mental illness.  Take the cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression, for example.

Although the National Institute for Mental Health considers ADHD to be a mental illness, few parents would put it in the same category as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder- what they perceive to be “real” mental illnesses. But that’s where it belongs.

I know that when my elementary aged child received the diagnosis of ADHD a number of years ago, I didn’t put that illness in the same category as a mental illness, and neither did my son’s doctor. That thought was the furthest from my mind. Had I identified ADD as a mental illness, things would have been different.

I wouldn’t have been so forthcoming about his illness, since the shame and stigma of a mental illness would automatically follow my son’s new identity as a mentally ill child.   I would have vehemently disagreed with anyone who tried to tell me that my child’s brain chemistry problem shared many of the same characteristics as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Hell, I hadn’t even heard of bipolar disorder back then, and schizophrenia to me was a scary, violent disease that people needed to be locked up for.  That was my perception of reality back then.

I have since met parents whose children have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and I realize the fallacy of my previous assumptions.  And then there’s the new reality that bipolar disorder is in fact diagnosable in children, contrary to what people perceived even ten years ago.  In fact, scientists are now learning that many cases of  bipolar disorder have been misdiagnosed as ADHD.

Things are not so black and white any more.  There’s a lot of gray in the world of mental illnesses.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, somewhere between 3% to 8% of children suffer from ADHD.  About 1% of the population suffers from schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder occurs in about 4% of the population.  And about 8% of people suffer from major depression in any given year.

That’s a lot of people with mental illnesses.

Splitting hairs, separating depression and ADHD from “real” mental illnesses, has done no favors to those suffering from all mental illnesses.  Were the umbrella reflective of real statistics, there would be much more money and energy available for studying more mental illnesses. It is difficult to sweep 20% of all people into the “mentally ill” category and not change people’s perception of mental illness. Let’s expand our minds to include mental illnesses like ADHD and depression in the category of “real” mental illnesses.  It would make the world a much better place.

Note: Sarah sent an interesting article regarding the over-prescription of ADHD medication at  http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/adhd



1. CJMCatherine - September 22, 2011

Maybe if we all switched to talking about ‘neurological illness’ rather than ‘mental illness,’ people might better understand the kinship among these diagnoses.

Mental illness carries the baggage of years of incorrect and misguided psychiatric theories. The stigma of mental illness ***comes from the inaccuracy of psychiatry***, not from the illnesses themselves.

Talking about these diseases in terms of neurology is much more accurate, and it helps people see that there are developmental, functional, and degenerative medical conditions that affect the neural structures we use for thought, just as there are those that affect the sensory or motor nerves (as in Parkinson’s).

2. CJM - September 24, 2011
3. LunaSunshine - September 26, 2011

The subject of ADHD infuriates me. It raises questions like, “At what point do we start considering normal childhood behaviors to be dysfunction?” Are we even diagnosing it correctly? Children have different temperments and energy levels. If they have a volitile temperment and a high energy level, are they ADHD?

I think a lot of gifted kids get slapped with all kinds of disorders that don’t apply. They get put on meds which does god knows what to alter their physical chemistry for life, and for what? Just because they were acting out in class? Duh, they were acting out because they were bored.

I deal with ADHD very differently in my class. Children are not meant to sit at desks all day and be talked at. They need the freedom to move around and explore. They need the encouragement to enhance their strengths and take what someone else would consider to be problematic behavior and turn it into something positive. Just today, I encouraged a 5th grader to join the theater club. He is very active, has a strong personality, and is very dramatic. He’s difficult to handle, but if he had a creative outlet and attention (as the theater brings), he would shine and have more self-confidence.

The only reason we should ever slap a label on a child is when they are falling behind developmentally or have severe behavioral problems. I mean full on temper tantrums at 8. (I know a girl in the theater program who does that. But she is an amazing actress. She was the only third grader with a leading role last year). It’s just unnecessary and invites all kinds of problems.

4. depression - October 1, 2011

I’ve witnessed how not referring to a mental illness as “illness” but instead “disorder” (like Bipolar Disorder) can be harmful.

Such thinking can lead down bad paths. The “just snap out of it” kind of bad paths. The “you’re not disabled” path, which is so tied to this whole article.

Not that we are all disabled, but I am. Yet I am not treated as well as those in wheel chairs.

LunaSunshine - October 3, 2011

Yeah, that infuriates me too. A mental illness is partially a physical illness of the workings of the brain, if you want to get technical.

5. Sarah - October 5, 2011

On ADHD, there are good articles here, both on over-medication risks and biological differences: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/adhd

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