Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Mood Symptoms

Jillian Enright

Research Shows What People With ADHD Have Been Saying For Years

Thanks for catching up, academia.

A recent study concluded that ADHD on its own was not a significant cause of mood disorders or mood-related symptoms.

When the researchers controlled for functional problems and executive functioning, the correlation dropped from 48% down to only 15%. Conversely, functional problems and executive functioning accounted for between 42% and 53% of the variance of mood symptoms.

In the discussion section of their paper, the authors went on to conclude:

“…mood symptoms can be seen as a result of coping with the negative outcomes individuals with ADHD experience in daily life.”

If I may say so: No $h!t, Sherlock.

The neurodivergent community has been trying to explain this to the general population for decades, but at least they’re beginning to catch up.

Neurodivergent activists and academics, such as Harvey Blume and Judy Singer, have been writing about the political perspectives and institutional constructs that contribute to the suffering of neurodivergent individuals since the late 90s.

“…think of how these people have been treated, whether at school, in employment, or in the social arena…how their irritating personal characteristics seem to justify their treatment. That’s the oppression.” — Judy Singer

Even earlier than that, disabled activists like Michael Oliver were making similar points with regards to physical disabilities and lack of accommodation, forming the social model of disability.

In fact, parts of Judy Singer’s thesis about the neurodiversity movement were inspired by those social and political models of disability.

Michael Oliver was a British academic, author, and disability rights activist. His research focused on the social model of disability, and his activism centred on overcoming the systemic barriers disabled people confront in their daily lives.

In his writings, he defined disability as:

“The disadvantage or restriction of activity caused by a contemporary social organisation which takes no or little account of people who have physical impairments and thus excludes them from the mainstream of social activities.” — Michael Oliver

Imagine how much sooner researchers would have reached these same conclusions if they actually listened to the communities about which they write and research, rather than treating us like lab rats, watching us flounder and taking notes.

Returning to the present

The research has identified poor self-concept as one of the most significant predictors of mood symptoms, particularly depression.

Imagine that.

Here’s where the medical, pathologizing approach attempts to gaslight neurodivergent people, convincing us that it’s our particular neurology causing us to feel depressed.

Granted, there are certainly aspects of our neurology that do make us more vulnerable to mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. (I’ve written about these risk factors in a number of previous articles).

That said, the medical model is overly narrow, and does not take into account the political and social factors that contribute to the struggles of anyone who does not fit within the statistical norm.

“…the pathology paradigm divides the spectrum of human cognitive performance into “normal” and “other than normal,” with “normal” implicitly privileged as the superior and desirable state.” — Dr. Nick Walker

When we live in a culture that constantly tells us how and why we are inferior, and regularly asks us to change so that we may reap the benefits that most others take for granted, it stands to reason that our self-concept would suffer.

As Dr. Nick Walker illustrates, the pathology paradigm asks ‘‘What do we do about the problem of these people not being normal?’’

In contrast, the neurodiversity paradigm asks:

‘‘What do we do about the problem of these people being oppressed, marginalized, poorly served, and poorly accommodated by the prevailing culture?’’ — Dr. Nick Walker

What can we do with this information?

Firstly, let’s stop assuming that a difference is automatically a disability, and stop asking people to change the core essence of who they are just to make others more comfortable.

Certainly, people may require support and accommodation, just as most of us do at various points in our lives. Let’s not lead with the assumption that a person is broken and must be fixed, or worse, a person must be taught to behave as “normal” as possible “in their own best interest”.

So many parents are still being sold an extremely harmful lie when professionals tell them their child is neurodivergent and must be put into therapies in order to help them become as close to neurotypical as possible.

No.

Supports should include skills that help a person be their best self, and still be themselves. Supports should address symptoms that actually cause the individual distress — as determined by that individual, not symptoms that are perceived as “inappropriate” or inconvenient to others.

A parent, professional, or any decent human being should never, ever tell a person that behaviours they find helpful and completely natural are “inappropriate”. If they care about the person, they should work hard to get to know and understand them and accept them for who they are.

We can teach and “train” human beings to be someone they’re not all we want, but all that’s going to do is cause them psychological and emotional distress, harm their relationships with the people doing this to them, and make them feel inferior.

We may believe we’re helping people by trying to help them “pass” for neurotypical, but all we’re doing is sending the message that they’re not good enough as they are. Hence, the low self-concept.

Not to mention, this puts the onus on the individual, rather than holding larger institutions accountable for their lack of accessibility and accommodation, which prevent people from simply being themselves.

Stop trying to change individuals, instead redirect energy and resources into pushing for change on a grander scale. Policy-makers, people who run our social institutions, people in charge of workplaces, and politicians need to be held accountable.

This is where change needs to happen and where our focus should be. Stop worrying about whether a child is stimming in class, fidgeting, or wiggling in their seat too much. Leave the kid alone and go harass a CEO somewhere.

© Jillian Enright, ADHD 2e MB

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References

Blume H. (1998). Neurodiversity. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/09/neurodiversity/305909

Katzman, M. A., Bilkey, T. S., Chokka, P. R., Fallu, A., & Klassen, L. J. (2017). Adult ADHD and comorbid disorders: clinical implications of a dimensional approach. BMC psychiatry, 17(1), 302. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-017-1463-3

Mohamed, S., Börger, N. A., & van der Meere, J. J. (2021). Executive and Daily Life Functioning Influence the Relationship Between ADHD and Mood Symptoms in University Students. Journal of attention disorders, 25(12), 1731–1742. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054719900251

Mohammadi, M.-R., Zarafshan, H., Khaleghi, A., Ahmadi, N., Hooshyari, Z., Mostafavi, S.-A., Ahmadi, A., Alavi, S.-S., Shakiba, A., & Salmanian, M. (2021). Prevalence of ADHD and Its Comorbidities in a Population-Based Sample. Journal of Attention Disorders, 25(8), 1058–1067. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054719886372

Oliver, M. (1990). The politics of disablement. Macmillan Education.

Singer, J. (1998). Odd People In: The Birth of Community Amongst People on the “Autistic Spectrum”: a personal exploration of a New Social Movement based on Neurological Diversity. [Honours thesis]. University of Technology.

Walker, N., & Raymaker, D. M. (2021). Toward a Neuroqueer Future: An Interview with Nick Walker. Autism in Adulthood, 3(1). https://doi.org/10.1089/aut.2020.29014.njw

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Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of Neurodiversity MB. CYW, BA Psychology.

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