Adult ADHD Does Not Exist in Some Places
Here is a story I have heard too many times. I received an email message last week from a woman in East Tennessee who had suffered enough from effects of ADHD, only to suffer more from the disappointing and sometimes insluting responses from uninformed mental health professionals. I don’t blame the professionals, as we are all naive until we are not. Those of us who specialize in helping adults with ADHD need to reach out to communities who are not informed about the disorder and the complementary roles of different professional disciplines that can help. We need to insist that our local mental health professionals have access to education about ADHD. Recognition of adult ADHD is relatively new…just under three decades…and more work lies ahead to bring services to under-served communities.
For the sake of efficiency and privacy, I trimmed a little of K’s email message and deleted the name of a mental health agency. K gave me perimission to use her email message in this blog.
I am located in Jonesborough, TN (near Johnson city and Kingsport). I have been to many different counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in this area, and I keep getting the same result. Mostly people who have information on ADHD that is decades old and have no clue what to do with it. I keep getting told things like, “You can’t possibly have ADHD because you did so well in school,” “Adults can’t have ADHD. It’s only a childhood disorder that you grow out of,” “Adult ADHD is very rare,” and many other ridiculous things. It is very frustrating to go to a professional and know more about your disorder than they do. I have done lots of research on Adult ADHD, read many books, etc. and I wish I could just treat myself, but that doesn’t work very well 🙂 It is also very frustrating because, everyone I call says that they treat adult ADHD, but then when I come for the appointment, they don’t have a clue. I have recently been asking if they specialize in ADHD, and you would be surprised at how many say they do before you make the appointment, and then when you come, it turns out that they have almost zero experience with it. I have had therapists tell me that if I would just “try harder”, I could do it, or “there is nothing we can do for ADHD except medication”. I even saw an ADHD coach in Asheville, NC, and after working with him for several months, mainly making lists and schedules that I could never seem to stick with, he said, “well, I gave you all of the tools, and you wouldn’t stick with it, so I don’t know what else to do for you”. It has been very frustrating to say the least.
I just recently made an appointment at _____ thinking that, since they are the largest mental health provider in this area, they would have at least one person who could help with ADHD. I called and asked for someone that specializes in ADHD, and they told me that they didn’t have anyone specialized, but that they saw a lot of adult ADHD, and many of their practitioners could help. So I scheduled an intake, and they said they would place me with someone who could help. I saw her yesterday, and she told me that ADHD in adults was practically nonexistent, because you grow out of it as you get older. She said that no one in their practice saw many patients with ADHD. She went on to tell me that she had never treated a patient who actually had ADHD, because they all actually have bipolar disorder. By the end of 45 minutes, she told me that I had bipolar disorder, and I “definitely don’t have ADHD”. She claimed that my “hyperfocus” was actually “goal directed behavior”, that my hyperactivity was hypomania, and that I need to be put on mood stabilizers. This was despite the fact that I was diagnosed with ADHD at age 7, and re-diagnosed as an adult about 5 years ago with combined type ADHD. After doing some research online, it turns out that ADHD is commonly mistaken for bipolar disorder, especially in women. It is very frustrating that, apparently, in our area ADHD is being commonly misdiagnosed as bipolar and that the knowledge level of practicing psychologists is so inadequate.
I have looked, and there does not seem to be any support groups for adult adhd here. It would be great to start one! Though there might not be very many people if they are all being misdiagnosed. I tried going to a support group in Asheville, NC for a while, but it’s about a 1.5 hour drive, and it just wasn’t feasible to go all of the time.
I have requested that the Tennessee Chapter of NASW (National Associatoion of Social Workers) offer training on adult ADHD for professionals in East Tennessee, as they did in West Tennessee in 2017.