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Why Sharing Misinformation About ADHD Medication Is Damaging

It happened again today. Scrolling through my newsfeed, laughing at funny pictures and cat videos, that one friend’s post came up. That one friend you have, whom you should probably delete, with another post about mental health medication. They post these stories frequently — the stories about how various medications for depression, anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD) are medications used to treat conditions which “Big Pharma” has made up to make money. You really don’t have these mental health problems, they say, because they don’t exist. On the off-chance you do feel sad sometimes because of your brain chemistry, you can be cured with some sort of smoothie that contains oil and seeds or, of course, exercise! Today’s post: a link to an article comparing ADHD medication to methamphetamine.

I never comment on it. I don’t have the time or emotional energy to argue. I do see that people “like” it and the occasional “oh wow, I had no idea” comment that makes me cringe.

I am a mom to three amazing kids. I also have ADHD. My two older kids also have ADHD/ADD.

I went to school in the 80s and 90s. During that time, hyperactive boys who acted out in class were the ones diagnosed — not the girl who listened to the teacher and liked to read, but just couldn’t grasp math and was disorganized. They didn’t know it was more than that. They didn’t know I could not retain the information they told me just two minutes ago — that even though they just told me how to do the math equation, it was gone as soon as they stopped helping me. They didn’t know that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t clean my room because it was instantly overwhelming and I shut down. They didn’t know I could read a book for 5 minutes and then suddenly realize I had no idea what I just read. I wasn’t hyper. I listened. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19.

After my diagnosis, everything made perfect sense. I always put myself down as “stupid” because I could never remember how to do math equations everyone else could easily grasp. The things I would constantly forget, the room I could never get and keep clean, looking at my work schedule daily because I couldn’t remember if I had to work… it wasn’t that I was “stupid.” My brain’s chemicals were. I started medication at 19 and it was life-changing. I am also very interested in psychology. So, after my diagnosis, I read materials about ADHD/ADD.

I found out, after reading books written by psychiatric professionals who spent many years in medical school, that stimulant medications on the ADHD/ADD brain have the opposite effect on people without the disorder. Short explanation: giving someone who does not have ADHD/ADD a stimulant medication results in effects like the drug Speed. Give someone with ADHD/ADD the same medication, and it has calming effects on the brain.

For me, I didn’t blurt out things in the middle of a conversation. I was able to complete tasks because the anxiety of “everything I had to do” was gone, and I retained information. My life was changed so much, for the better.

My daughter was in third grade when I noticed it in her. I cried with her at the kitchen table when she struggled with math. I explained it to her, she did it perfectly with me next to her, then completely forgot when I walked away. She cried in my arms and I cried when she said: “I’m so stupid, I can’t do this.” When asked to clean her room, she would cry and tell me she couldn’t. When trying to talk to her and tell her things I needed her to do, she would get very upset and tell everyone around us to stop talking because she couldn’t understand me with everyone talking. Educating myself about the different ways ADHD/ADD manifests, I was able to see what was going on. Knowing what I knew about medication and its benefits, I had no hesitation with scheduling an appointment for her.

I do agree that it’s an overdiagnosed illness at times, so I went through a very long process of having her evaluated by several professionals, who then took their findings to the psychiatrist before our appointment. I wasn’t surprised when he gave his official diagnosis of ADHD. I was relieved. She started meds, and not only her life but also our family benefitted after she was medicated. She made the honor roll at school, which helped her self-esteem. Her meltdowns significantly decreased, and her overall mood improved. It was life-changing for her, and I was so grateful I had the information I did to get her help.

I say all of this because, had I read the article filled with misinformation about ADHD/ADD and the effects of stimulant medication, I may have been one of those to take that article as truth. I may have been convinced this article was written by a skilled and trained psychiatrist and if I chose to give my child a stimulant, I was giving them methamphetamine. Had I taken that article as truth, my child would have been made to suffer. I am sad when I think about this information being spread, taken as truth, and children going through school with a mental illness that is about so much more than just “paying attention.” I am comfortable with the choice I made for my kids about medication because I decided based on scientific studies, not an internet article from a website that also tells you garlic can cure cancer.

Please be mindful about where you get information about medical conditions. Be careful what medical advice you take from a website. Always talk to medical professionals, in person, and get the information from trained professionals. Let them help you and guide you through these important decisions.

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash