Looking back, Pippa Boyd can see the telltale signs – like often getting into trouble in grade school for moving around too much and needing an organizational system that relies heavily on cue cards to get through nursing school – but only recently has she started. I think she has ADHD.
“In high adrenalin situations my focus is perfect, but in everyday life it’s a struggle,” says the 54-year-old from Toronto.
That struggle has only gotten worse over the past two years, and it’s one that many others are experiencing as well.
Physicians and advocacy groups for ADHD say they are seeing a large influx of adults seeking a diagnosis and treatment for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
dr. Gurdeep Parhar says the number of adults who come to his clinic in Burnaby, BC for an ADHD diagnosis, has risen 25 percent since the start of the pandemic. Not all of them will meet the diagnostic criteria, but have to deal with a normal amount of effort to pay attention to, an understandable situation considering all the ways life has changed in the past two years. But with the pandemic collapse of routines and schedules – be it no longer going to the office, going to the gym or going to social functions — many people’s previously undiagnosed ADHD has been brought up, says Dr. parhar.
“COVID has brought it more to light,” he says. “People who did well in a structured environment, be it a classroom or an office, suddenly get all that unstructured time.”
Adults have ADHD. We must also have accessible care
There is also a wider awareness of ADHD and its nuances than in previous generations. This leads some adults to view it as a reason they are having a hard time, rather than dismissing it as a diagnosis found only in children, says Heidi Bernhardt, director of education and advocacy at the Center for ADHD Awareness Canada. a non-profit organization. organization based in Toronto.
Wayne O’Brien runs a support group in Toronto for adults with ADHD. Prior to the pandemic, the group had about 100 active members, who met twice a month at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. Meetings have been virtual and the number of active members has tripled, says Mr O’Brien. Many newcomers have yet to be diagnosed, but are confident they suffer from the condition, he says.
When it was first identified in the 1960s, ADHD was known as the “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood.” Thanks to a better understanding of the condition, including identifying inattention as a symptom, it was finally named ADHD in 1987, when the American Psychology Association released the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
ADHD is the most common mental disorder in children, affecting nearly 5 percent of people of all ages, but an estimated 90 percent of adults with ADHD are undiagnosed, Ms. Bernhardt says.
Usually, it’s hyperactive guys who disrupt classrooms that get picked for assessment, she says. “Those are the children who would be arrested because they are very annoying to adults.”
People who struggle more with attention than with hyperactivity are more likely to slip through the cracks. This is especially true for girls — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, boys are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls and Prevention.
“I’ve noticed a lot of women are coming during the pandemic,” says Dr. Doron Almagor, a Toronto psychiatrist and past president of the Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving understanding of ADHD among healthcare professionals.
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which is why people are born with it, Dr. Almagor says. The pandemic has not resulted in an adult developing ADHD. It has instead brought their ADHD into sharper focus. “The pandemic may have tipped the balance in their functioning,” he says.
The move to work from home has probably been the biggest balance shift for many, says Ms Bernhardt.
“If you have a good job that works to your strengths, if you have a spouse who takes care of everything, if you have a good schedule, you thrive,” she says. But when “all that scaffolding goes away,” a person’s ADHD symptoms can quickly worsen. “That’s what happened during the pandemic.”
André Brisson, who was diagnosed with ADHD shortly before the pandemic, struggled with the transition to working from home.
Before COVID-19, he often drove from his home in Ingersoll, Ontario, to Toronto to meet with clients. “Constant movement is important to me,” says the 47-year-old, who runs a construction engineering company. “I get bored easily and when I get bored, my impulsiveness takes over.”
Working from home not only meant fighting boredom but also having to structure and organize his professional life outside the office, which is still a challenge.
“I’ve been making my little ADHD office for the past few months. It’s completely separate from everyone else, I don’t have anything on the walls, it has no distractions,” he says.
The pandemic may also have caused some people to mistakenly suspect they have the condition, Dr. Almagor says.
“People are stressed and perhaps expect too much of themselves. There are limits to productivity and focus,” he says.
There are strict diagnostic criteria for ADHD, says Dr. parhar. Although it is based on a psychological assessment, it must, more importantly, cause dysfunction. If you don’t struggle with work, family, or personal relationships, then you probably don’t have ADHD, he says.
As for Ms Boyd, she will be meeting with a specialist later this summer after her GP initially rejected ADHD. She passed nursing school and therefore couldn’t have the disorder, he told her.
But she has found it harder than ever during the pandemic.
“Keeping up with emails, my phone, that’s hard. I’m really struggling with my organizational stuff now,” she says.
She meditates daily, makes lists of everything she needs to do, and relies on alarms in her Google calendar to try to stay focused. All the research she has done on her own has convinced her that she has ADHD and it puts all of her past challenges in a new light.
“It’s just a real eye-opener,” she says.
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