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Work out if issues you’re having may be due to undiagnosed neurodivergency (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
ADHD is a condition commonly associated with children, in particular boys who display hyperactive traits at school.
However, not only can it affect adults, it’s also something that impacts women – and misconceptions around neurodivergency mean that many people struggle to receive a diagnosis and treatment.
The lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder presents differently in different people, with women more commonly experiencing ‘inattentive ADHD’ (and symptoms like daydreaming or forgetfulness) and men displaying ‘external’ symptoms such as fidgeting and hyperactivity.
As someone with ADHD gets older, they may find that these external symptoms die down but associated issues like impulsivity, poor concentration, and risk-taking become more severe, impacting work and personal relationships as a result.
For those who were not diagnosed as a child, it can be daunting to seek medical advice, especially if you’re worried about being dismissed or misdiagnosed.
Conversations around mental health issues and neurodivergency have no doubt broadened our understanding of adult ADHD, and although many still report delays and problems with NHS diagnosis, it’s still important to seek help if you’re struggling.
We want to demystify the process of getting suspected ADHD assessed and – if you are diagnosed – treated.
Armed with knowledge of how the system works, you should hopefully be going into appointments knowing exactly what to expect, without stress or fear.
If you suspect you have ADHD, the first port of call should be your GP, who will do a preliminary assessment before potentially referring you to a community mental health team.
They may then refer you on to an ADHD specialist neurobehavioural psychiatrist for further assessment.
Although GPs cannot formally diagnose the disorder, they will look at three things when deciding whether to make a referral:
- you were not diagnosed with ADHD as a child, but your symptoms began during childhood and have been ongoing since
- your symptoms cannot be explained by a mental health condition
- your symptoms significantly affect your day-to-day life – for example, if you’re underachieving at work or find intimate relationships difficult
Waiting times may be long, which is why some who can afford it may choose to visit a private psychiatrist.
Common adult ADHD symptoms
According to the Royal College of Psychiatry, you may have ADHD if:
- You get easily distracted and find it hard to take notice of details, particularly with things you find boring.
- It’s hard to listen to other people – you may find yourself finishing their sentences for them or interrupting them, or just saying things at the wrong time.
- It’s hard to follow instructions.
- You find it hard to organise yourself – you start a lot of things without ever finishing them.
- You find it hard to wait or when there’s nothing much going on – you fidget and can’t sit still.
- You are forgetful and tend to lose or misplace things.
- You easily get irritable, impatient or frustrated and lose your temper quickly.
- You feel restless or edgy, have difficulty turning your thoughts off, and find stress hard to handle.
- You tend to do things on the spur of the moment, without thinking, which gets you into trouble.
Most people will find themselves exhibiting the same behaviours from time to time, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you have ADHD.
Only a qualified specialist is able to officially diagnose the disorder.
ADHD Aware explains: ‘At the moment the state of adult ADHD services in the NHS is that it is a postcode lottery with many areas lacking any adult ADHD service; where services do exist, they are rationed and have long waiting lists.
‘In many areas, clinical staff have not been trained about Adult ADHD and it is common for them to not have awareness or experience of Adult ADHD and this can make the referral process more difficult.’
If you do have the funds for to go private, AADD UK provide some great resources to help you choose the right practitioner. The assessment itself will usually cost
If that’s out of your budget, though, try not to get disheartened. Work with healthcare professionals to get to the root cause of problems you’re facing, and ensure you regularly follow up with your GP (set calendar reminders on your phone) if you’re feeling fobbed off.
The diagnostic pathways guide with ADHD UK is also massively helpful if you’re up against a brick wall at your local doctors’ surgery.
Adult ADHD assessment
The assessment itself will be the same whether you go private or through the NHS.
This will be with a specialist neurobehavioural psychiatrist and will last between one and three hours.
You’ll be asked about your life experiences, going back to your childhood up to the present day. This is so the psychiatrist can match your experiences to a checklist of ADHD symptoms from the ICD 10.
Other mental health issues will be discussed too, as this gives a clearer picture of what you’re dealing with.
Be open and honest in your assessment, and consider writing down significant symptoms beforehand so you don’t forget once you’re there.
How ADHD is treated
Once you’ve been diagnosed, your psychiatrist will suggest the best course of treatment for you going forward.
This may include medication or therapy, or a combination of both.
There is no cure for ADHD, but finding the right way to manage it should lessen its impact on your life.
A diagnosis is just the first step in alleviating the impact ADHD has on your life (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Medications offered to adults with ADHD include methylphenidate, lisdexamfetamine, and dexamfetamine, all of which are stimulants that improve concentration and lessen impulsive behaviour.
Psychoeducation, CBT, and different forms of talking therapy may also help you make sense of your diagnosis and learn effective coping strategies.
To find the best treatment option for you, you may be required to attend multiple follow-up appointments with a psychiatrist.
They’ll monitor how you’re getting on with any medication prescribed until you settle on the right dosage, as well as discussing next steps.
After this, the specialist may discharge you from their care back to that of your GP, or the two will create a ‘shared care’ agreement to provide continuing advice.
Being diagnosed with any ongoing condition, particularly later in life, can be as frightening as it is reassuring. You’re likely to have plenty of questions, and may even be questioning your own sense of self.
In an ideal world, the best course of action is continuing therapy to manage symptoms and get to grips with such a massive shift in your perception of who you are.
In reality, many on the NHS aren’t referred for more than a few sessions with a psychologist, and choose to either pay for private therapy or seek support elsewhere.
Visit AADD-UK for a list of support groups across the country. Although peer-to-peer support isn’t a replacement for professional help, it can be beneficial to speak to others going through similar experiences.
ADHD may be a lifespan disorder, but related symptoms don’t need to impact your whole life.
Whether it does turn out you have ADHD or you end up exploring different potential causes for issues, you’re putting in the work to improve your situation – and that can only be commended.
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