I am tired of hearing about the stigmas attached to depression, ADHD, and the use of medication to treat these conditions.
In the case of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), I feel like the disorder has become a casual label for anyone who’s overly energetic or who has trouble focusing on one thing for an extended period of time. As someone who was diagnosed with ADHD at a very young age, I feel like ADHD has developed a stereotype and had its legitimacy minimized.
ADHD is diagnosed in 3 to 5 percent of American school-aged children, and it is possible for it to continue into adulthood. If everyone I’ve heard claim they have ADHD, or that they were “acting ADD,” actually had the disorder, I would put that diagnosis ratio closer to 20 percent at least.
In the case of depression, I know that it’s become increasingly common for people to suffer from the condition in some form. Major Depressive Disorder affects about six percent of adult Americans each year. Depression carries a certain stigma in western society. Many people suffer from it, but we don’t openly talk about it enough (when I type the words “stigma against” into Google, “mental illness” is the first suggestion that appears in the drop-down list, and “depression” is the third). As a result, people who may honestly be suffering from depression are reluctant to get help.
There is also a stigma against being on medication for psychological conditions. There are people who feel antidepressants are over-prescribed (and they may be), and there are people who believe it is wrong to prescribe stimulant medications to children with ADHD. In the latter case, some of these people believe that ADHD isn’t a legitimate condition and that its so-called symptoms are normal child behavior. I disagree. Based on my own experience, I know there’s a point where childhood hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattentiveness stop being a regular part of childhood and become a problem that gets in the way of a child’s ability to learn. I was one of those children, and medication is what ultimately turned me around.
Growing up, I was a complex case (I still am). I have a unique blend of ADHD, depression, and generalized anxiety. When my mom would try something to fix one issue, it would worsen another. I saw more doctors than I can count and tried more medications than I care to remember before we found ones that worked well together. That day came when I was in fifth grade—a new stimulant medication came out called Focalin and it’s what turned me from a disruptive, inattentive child into a focused, driven honor student. (Stimulants actually have a calming effect on people with ADHD.) I’ve always been curious and eager to learn, but my various issues got in the way and kept me from realizing my potential.
I was also on two other medications at the time, one for depression and the other for anxiety. The perfect triad of those medications is what has allowed me to be the best version of myself to this day. A couple of weeks ago my doctor suggested I try getting off of my anxiety medication and I agreed with the idea because before then, I couldn’t even remember what it did that wasn’t already covered by one of the other two pills I take. I certainly remember now. During those two weeks without it, I felt like I was losing myself in my own head. I couldn’t think straight, was overly emotional, short-fused, and surprisingly angry at the world. Now that I have the medication back, I’ve leveled out again. Apparently I’m as picky biologically as I am in everyday life.
The point of my story is, even though I’m sure there are people in this world who are on medications they don’t need to be, there are also those of us that legitimately do need the extra help to get through our days. Therapy may be enough to help some people, and I’ve had my fair share of that too, but in other cases the problem is neurological. I’m chemically unbalanced. My medications shift that chemical balance in my brain. I am confident that I have a lot to give, and if I genuinely need a bit of help to achieve that potential, I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed or guilty about that.